Saturday, September 27, 2014

A permanent solution to the coup culture?

The election result was something of a foregone conclusion given the degree of control exercised by the erstwhile dictatorship over all aspects of political life. Draconian decrees restricting fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press meant that opposition voices would have trouble being heard. Control over the news media was especially important for Frank Bainimarama to gain legitimacy as elected prime minister, and it was assured by intimidation of both Fiji TV and the Fiji Times under the Media Decree. The Fiji Sun and FBC, meanwhile, could be counted on for shameless cheerleading on behalf of the regime.

Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher (1655-1716) observed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” That was back when ballads were the main means of spreading the news, which even 300 years ago was well understood as the key to forming public opinion. Now imagine if a politician could both control the news AND make all the laws of a nation. How would you like his chances at the polls? That was the situation in Fiji for almost eight years subsequent to Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. The only real surprise is that he didn’t take all 50 seats, as he boasted he would. That Sodelpa managed as many seats as it did speaks to the depth of indigenous outrage that will not be going away anytime soon.
The real question is whether Fiji could handle a genuine democracy with a free press, or if the country needs an über-authoritarian strongman like Bainimarama to keep control. Those who claim the latter is true point to the country’s history of coups dating back to 1987. Some blame the press for fomenting the 2000 coup, which on my reading of the record seems specious, at best. But the fact remains that Fiji’s two solitudes have shown they simply cannot play nicely enough together for a real democracy. Calls for an end to the “coup culture” that has bedeviled the country have perhaps been answered with a militarisation which has seen an elected government laced with army officers. Combined with restrictive decrees which amount to almost as much government control as during martial law, the result is perhaps a permanent state of coup which will indeed preclude future coups.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let's make every day a blackout!

My two best days ever!

Election Day -1 = Thanksgiving?

In the classic 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor played by Robert De Niro constructs a phony overseas entanglement just days before a national election in a bid to boost the re-election hopes of an incumbent president. The title of the film referred to something of secondary importance improperly taking on primary importance. In the study of political communication, this effect is known as priming. Intense media coverage of a subject can result in a candidate’s record in that area taking precedence in the minds of voters over more important issues, such as running the economy.

The evidence
Last week’s freeing of 45 peacekeepers held hostage in the Middle East was thus like manna from heaven for the Bainimarama regime, as their capture had fixated the nation almost more than the election. Could the junta’s Washington, D.C. spin doctor Qorvis Communications have had anything to do with the $20 million ransom reportedly paid by Qatar for their release? Qorvis has the bulk of its clients in the Middle East, including Qatar’s state broadcaster Al-Jazeera. A ransom of $20 million would be chump change to the oil-rich Qataris, and release of the Fijian peacekeepers would be of immense public relations value to the Fiji regime.

The junta thus blatantly milked its good fortune for all it was worth, declaring yesterday Thanksgiving in advance of today’s election. (Fiji time, of course.) As a 48-hour media blackout has supposedly descended on the nation in advance of polling, the news focus will thus have been on the ceremony at the national stadium. Nothing but warm fuzzy feelings will no doubt be felt toward the government, which could have been quite different had the peacekeepers not been released, or even worse been executed. Frank Bainimarama must feel doubly blessed, what with the apparently dismal performance of Sodelpa leader Ro Teimumu Kepa in the recent televised debate. Had the articulate NFP leader Biman Prasad been part of the proceedings, the outcome could have been considerably different. Expect Bainimarama to breeze to victory in the polls, but not quite by the unanimous margin he covets.

As for that media blackout, all is mostly quiet on the domestic front, if not on the blogs. Pacific Scoop reports that government broadcaster FBC ran ads for Fiji FIST within 48 hours of polling, in contravention of the Elections Decree, although they have now disappeared. “Several blogs, a Fiji news agency and many political parties have all apparently broken the rules online,” noted student journalist Thomas Carnegie from Auckland. “The potential breaches show the inability of the overwhelmed Fijian authorities to monitor the chaotic internet. They also raise questions about why the Elections Decree attempted to criminalise the online world over blackout breaches.”
Many blogs have also published commentaries that would seem to breach Section 118. Fiji Media Wars blogger Marc Edge posted a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama. He wrote that Fijian authorities had little influence over the blogosphere. “The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t,” he added. FijiLeaks, published by investigative journalist Victor Lal, posted a comment that the media blackout was a “sinister ploy” to stop damaging information about Fiji First being revealed.
I’m not quite sure what Carnegie is referring to as “a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama.” I instead posted two first-person accounts of beatings administered as part of what I described as “the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006.” That’s hardly a political commentary. Perhaps they were referring to this bit of editorializing.
Events in Fiji have reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from going unreported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days? 
That’s hardly political advocacy, however. I have never advocated for one party over another in Fiji. I take no position on Fiji politics. My only ambition is to give light to facts which have been suppressed. If those facts have political implications, then so be it. This is much different to New Zealand blogger Crosbie Walsh, who instead blatantly electioneered for Bainimarama yesterday in a clear breach of the Elections Decree. “I am saying vote FijiFirst and don’t waste your vote by voting for any any [sic.] of the minor parties,” wrote Croz, who obviously needs a copy editor. His update to a blog entry titled “What if I’m Wrong?”, which I and others pointed to as expressing doubts about the dictator, was defensive and obviously hurried, perhaps after a heated phone call from Suva. Croz even laced the comments section several times over with a further disclaimer.
To all discussants. Thank you for your comments. Several of you have said I expressed doubt about the Bainimrama goverment [sic.] and took this to mean I had changed my opinion. This is not correct. I am rarely, if ever, “certain” on any important issue, and often start from a position of doubt. I usually consider the likely motivations, causes and effects before making an assessment or judgment. Isn’t this what every intelligent person does? I wrote the UPDATE because the anti-Bainimarama blogs took what I consider to be an honest and upfront statement and ignored its main message which was vote FijiFirst. The only real alternative, SODELPA, will set Fiji back a decade.
Croz also deleted several of my comments to the effect that he was indeed wrong. Meanwhile he has left up vile threats such as this one: “Marc Edge, we are watching the arrivals into Fiji. Come if you dare. A wonderful welcome awaits you. You wont be able to sit down for a year. But then again, you will probably enjoy it. Just biding our time. Tick tick tick.” I guess that’s just proof that I’m on the right track and that the junta really is a vile, murderous lot. I have also been dropped from the Facebook group Friends of Fiji MEDIA for the crime of having posted links there to my latest blog entries. Group administrators are obviously concerned about penalties in the Elections Decree that provide for fines of up to $50,000 and prison sentences of up to 10 years in prison for violating the blackout. I havent been dropped from other Facebook groups, for some reason, such as the Fiji Democratic Forum or the Fiji Economic Forum, so I should be able to post a link to this blog entry in those groups. Does that mean economists and democrats are less concerned than media are about violating the Elections Decree? More likely it means there hasnt been the pressure applied to them that has obviously been applied to Fiji media.

Monday, September 15, 2014

And the hits just keep on comin'

Wow.

That’s the only way to describe traffic to Fiji Media Wars in the past 24 hours. While this blog usually gets 150-200 pageviews a day, my posts of yesterday and today have resulted in more than 1,600 pageviews in the 24 hours just ended. (Blogger uses GMT to start and end a day for analytics purposes.) The highest-ever total until now was the day I blogged about Hosanna Kabakoro, who suffered at the hands of the woman-bashing dictator’s son, Meli Bainimarama. That day saw more than 700 pageviews, so the past 24 hours have been more than double that.

It just goes to show the interest in stories that cannot be told in Fiji media due to the Draconian decrees the junta has imposed on news media there. The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t.

Laisa Digitaki’s story

One of the stories you won’t see in Fiji’s well-controlled media is the story of the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006. Suva businesswoman Laisa Digitaki, who was pregnant at the time, converted her office building into a pro-democracy shrine in the wake of the coup, but it was demolished by gunmen, whom Digitaki accused of being military personnel, although she was not present at the time. Ground floor windows were shattered and a television satellite dish was damaged. According to Wikipedia, Digitaki and a number of others protesting outside the Great Council of Chiefs venue in Suva on 21 December 2006 were arrested by the Military, which claimed that they had no permit for a protest. They were released on bail pending a court appearance on 29 January 2007, but Digitaki never appeared. When the magistrate was told she was in hiding and heard the reasons why, he declined to issue a warrant for her arrest. She was subsequently granted UN protection. Following is Digitaki’s story about what happened to her at Christmas 2006. It is not new, having been posted first on Fiji Village in February 2007 (link broken) and then on other blogs, but it is worth repeating and corroborates the story of Peter Waqavonovono, which FMW published yesterday.
LAISA DIGITAKI’S STATEMENT & SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
RE – PRO-DEMOCRACY GROUP OF FIVE ROUNDING UP AND BASHING
BY THE RFMF ON DECEMBER 24th‑25th, 2006 
On Christmas Eve night of 24th December, 2006, a group of soldiers came to our home at 12 Kavika Place, Muanikau, Suva at around 11.20 pm in a rental car registration number LR627.
Members of the family who were at the property at that time were myself, Laisa Digitaki, my partner, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, our son, Mosese Qionibaravi (19), and three daughters, Susana Qionibaravi (17), Fiona Weleilakeba (13) and Natasha Weleilakeba (8). A security guard was also on duty. 
According to the guard, Marau Vakaloloma, of Matrix Security Company, the soldiers advised him through the closed electronic gate that they were there to take me to the camp. The guard told them to wait outside the gate so he could advise us. He rang the door bell which was answered and opened by our son Mosese. 
My partner Sitiveni, who was asleep with me heard the door chime and also went downstairs to the front door to check. 
He said the guard told him of the soldiers’ presence and he told our son to go back to his room and that he would talk to the soldiers. 
He walked over to the closed electronic gate and was informed by the soldiers that the order from their superior was to take me to the camp for interrogation. 
My partner then came back into the house, to our bedroom, and woke me up saying that a group of soldiers was outside waiting to take me away. 
I went downstairs in my sleeping gown and asked them why they wanted to take me at that ungodly hour. One of them said that I needed to be taken to the camp immediately. 
I told them that I needed to speak to my lawyers at Munro Leys as I wanted to be escorted by them too. 
The guy mentioned that I need not speak to my lawyers as it would only complicate matters and that they needed to take me peacefully and that I should not fear as they claimed that we were all related anyway. 
He also said that another group of soldiers was on their way and their job was to forcefully remove me from my home if I resisted. 
The gentleman who seemed to be their spokesman looked familiar to me as the SDL Nasinu Branch Secretary. I do not know his name. 
I asked their spokesman if I could change into decent clothes of which he said yes.
I went back to our bedroom and changed into a mustard Marcs three-quarter pants, a “Fiji Me” bright green round neck T‑Shirt, pink golf cap, and brown leather Hush Puppies slippers. 
Before I walked out of the house, I called my Munro Leys lawyer, Mr Richard Naidu, to advise him of what was happening. 
I then walked out peacefully and into the yellow rental car with the soldiers.
I was introduced by the spokesman to each of them and he mentioned that the one sitting on my left was from Vanuabalavu, Lau, and the one on my right was from Namosi. 
The Namosi lad looked like the person who headed the Namosi soldiers who presented an apology to Commodore Bainimarama for their part in the 2000 coup.
I do not know his name. 
The other two soldiers were calling him “Sir” so I can only assume that he is a high ranking officer. 
Their spokesperson did not elaborate on the driver, who was also an indigenous Fijian. 
They mentioned that they were also after Imrana Jalal, Virisila Buadromo and the rest of our pro-democracy youth group. 
Imrana’s home is two houses away from mine and I told them to leave her family alone and that there was no point in going to Imrana’s home since she was away overseas for business anyway. 
The four soldiers were very friendly and we were even cracking some jokes on our way to the camp. 
They said that most of the soldiers were SDL supporters and that I shouldn’t be afraid.
I told them that even-though I helped with the SDL election campaign, I was totally against most of the things they came up with soon after the election and that I was not supporting SDL but was doing what I was doing not for the restoration of the SDL government but for the restoration of democracy and law and order in Fiji. 
As we arrived at the camp, I was told to walk into a room situated on the left hand side of the main gate which I will call the guardhouse. 
The Namosi soldier gently requested that I hand over my cap, Sony Ericsson mobile phone and Raymond Weil watch, which I did. 
They told me to sit a while on a white plastic chair and after a few minutes, I was led into a passage way from where I was sitting and realised that they were cells. On my left, I noticed two young men asleep in the first cell in their underwear snoring and noticed another figure in the same cell but couldn't figure out whether it was a person as it was quite dark. 
On my right, I noticed my business partner, Imraz Iqbal, lying on his back on the cold cement in his red underwear. 
I greeted him before they locked me in the cell opposite Imraz’s. 
After a few minutes, they opened the cell again and led me further down to the last cell where they locked me up again. The cell was darker than the one before. An indigenous Fijian soldier in civilian clothing came to me and started accusing me of talking against the army takeover. 
He ordered that the mattress I was sitting on be removed so that I could sit on the cold cement floor. 
More indigenous Fijian soldiers walked over to my cell to peek with some saying their “bulas”' while the others did not utter a word. 
Overall, the soldiers at the guard house were pleasant and not intimidating except for that gentleman who was angry about my pro‑democracy stand. 
After about 20 minutes in the cell, the Namosi soldier came and freed me and asked if we could go together to get Pita Waqavonovono, another pro‑democracy advocate. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Fijian Christmas Story

Not everyone has a blog, although almost anyone can start a blog. It takes a while to build up a readership, however. You can see from the meter on the right that Fiji Media Wars has now passed 100,000 page views, which compared to many blogs is small potatoes. But I know FMW has a dedicated readership, and events in Fiji have reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from being reported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days? Here is a first installment. There is no video, or else I am sure it would be much more impactful.
Frank was There 
By Peter Waqavonovono 
I want to share with you a short explanation of one of the reasons why I feel Frank Bainimarama cannot be allowed to run Fiji
I have seen the true face of Bainimarama’s leadership. I know many people in Fiji share the same experience as I do. 
Christmas Eve 2006, myself and other pro-democracy activists were taken from our homes late at night and brought to the QEB Military Camp under the guise of a meeting with the Military Council. What happened instead was an attack on all of us. 
When I was brought into the camp, there are two things that directly stood out for me. One is that all the lights in the QEB Camp were turned off and secondly was the overbearing smell of Alcohol. 
I recall the events of that night clearly. It involved soldiers punching and kicking us, and threatening to murder us. At one point, I was certain that I would not leave that place alive. 
Notable people at the QEB Military Camp that night were Frank Bainimarama, Roko Ului Mara and Pita Driti, all visible under the moonlight. Only a group of about 15 men were involved in the attack. While we were been attacked by a few soldiers in the army ground, I looked up to see Frank Bainimarama kicking and verbally abusing me. He called soldiers to come and drag me to the cricket pitch. On the cricket pitch soldiers were ordered by someone to run over us and I recall been told at this point to keep my head down. A soldier came to me and pulled me by the hair, and started cutting patches of my hair off. I was told that he would cut me up and throw me in the sea – that no one would care about me. 
During this assault, there were men singing Christmas Carols by the Ground and cheering on their peers. I also recall been ordered to run to Lami and take down banners at the Vugalei Democracy Shrine. While we ran, I was especially targeted by three soldiers who kept hitting and swearing at me. They later pinned me down, and proceeded to kick and punch me, they put me in a military truck and drove up towards Nadua Secondary School, where they literally threw me out of the moving Truck. 
At this point, another truck with a different set of soldiers, took me back to the Military Camp. A soldier in this Truck gave me water and asked for Apologies. He told me that not all soldiers were doing this and they were following orders ‘from the top’. When I reached the camp, I was hurried into a cell; and joined by 3 soldier who told me that Bainimarama was very angry with my comments. They proceeded to further torture me, trying to get me to promise to never speak out against Bainimarama. This point of the ordeal was very traumatic. Another soldier with the voice similar to Roko Ului intervened and told off the people in the cell, He ordered that the beatings stop, and after this they put me in a car and they drove me out towards Nabua Secondary School, where they asked me to get off. I recall been helped by two young boys from here, who took me to the Matua Taxi Base in Mead Road, where I got onto a Taxi and went straight home to a family that was clearly angered at what the Military had done.  
All soldiers that participated in the attack smelled of Alcohol. 
I was told that night, to leave Suva. I left on Boxing day for Levuka where I was informed by my Family that someone had sent soldiers to my house in Suva, to take me in for another meeting. I was later on informed via the media that I was put on a travel ban. 
I recall thinking to myself, that if these men with Guns feared a young person’s mouth or opinions, then I was definitely in the right.  That’s why they fear us, because we breathe and preach Freedom. We are willing to die to purchase a better Fiji. I have never gone silent and since then I have been arrested 3 times for just speaking out against the Bainimarama Government. 
And in joining SODELPA I have invested much of my energy and time into ensuring many young people understand the Dictatorship we are trying to dethrone. Every day I report to the SODELPA Office and stand alongside many other Freedom Fighters who have been arrested and abused for refusing to accept the Coup of 2006. There is a sense of Honor in their daily activities, a dedication to serving people and safeguarding Fiji
We do not have a bad Military. We just have very bad self serving leaders. 
This man Frank Bainimarama is a paranoid control freak, a man who masks all his crimes with Freebies and Development. Do not be fooled, Frank is afraid of you! He is afraid that more people will hear the truth about the bitter road we have had to endure for the last 8 years. Frank Bainimarama is pumping as much resources as he can in order to prevent the TRUTH from been heard. WE the People, have a simple solution - Change the Government.  
Friends, after all the nepotism, militarisation of the State, the corruption, the Torture and the Intimidation, and even after all the deaths at the hands of the State, we have been asked to now vote for a Government of the People. And Bainimarama is pretending to be a Saint or our Savior. 
I am voting for the Party that will bring about real change, I dont need anything to be given to me Free. I am voting for The Party that will seriously look into human rights violations and take action. The Party that will restore and protect elements of the Fijian Administration and my Culture. I am voting for SODELPA because I know that peace is guaranteed. And many young people feel the same. 
When election day comes, I know it will be an emotional day for me and many other people in Fiji. My Hopes, Anger, Aspirations and Dreams will all rest on that tick. I pray that this message can be used, to show the true heart of people in SODELPA. For Freedom Hope and Glory and an end to the COUP CULTURE.

Bainimarama is Frankly a monster

Nothing epitomizes the past eight years of media repression in Fiji better than the video of dictator Frank Bainimarama slapping a woman TV journalist in the face last week. It captures not only the contempt with which Bainimarama has treated the press, but also the brutality with which he has treated people, including and especially women. Now some of Bainimarama’s staunchest supporters are re-thinking whether he would make a fit leader for a democratic Fiji, as should all citizens in advance of Wednesday’s poll.

3News reporter Amanda Gillies was in Suva from New Zealand to cover the election campaign and approached Bainimarama at a rally. “Can you promise there won’t be another coup,” she asked the obviously irritated dictator. “Can you just move away from me?” replied Bainimarama, who told Gillies he didn’t want to discuss the subject. He first pushed away her microphone, then began waving his hand in her face. “I will move away,” promised Gillies, who courageously refused to be intimidated and persisted as any good journalist should. “But I just want to know if you . . .” She couldn’t finish her sentence because Bainimarama slapped her in the face, causing her to drop her microphone at the 12-second mark of this clip. 


The video, which has been making the rounds on Facebook, has elicited a shocked response from viewers. Bainimarama has been rumored for years to have participated in the beating of women who were arrested for advocating democracy in the wake of his 2006 coup, including one who was pregnant. He also famously condoned the beating of escaped prisoners last year after a video of the atrocity was posted to the Internet. But to watch as the prime minister gives the back of his hand to a woman leads to the inescapable conclusion that this thug is simply not fit for leadership. 

As campaigning culminates, even some of Bainimarama's longest-serving sycophants are deserting his sinking ship. Crosbie Walsh posted a sheepish entry which he labelled a “Personal Confession” on his blog yesterday. “What if I’m wrong,” worried Croz.
When I started this blog in May 2007 it was to offset the distorted reporting of NZ journalist Michael Field, and I was writing mainly for an overseas audience. . . . Since then, as I read about what the Bainimarama government was doing and talked to a wide range of people in Fiji, my position gradually changed. . . . To make matters worse, a number of government-initiated judicial actions seemed personally charged and vindictive. And its failure to have public audits and reveal salaries laid it wide open to further charges by the Opposition.  
If even crazy old Croz is questioning his beloved dictator, then you know Bainimarama is going down. “He’s a military man and he definitely has a very short fuse,” admitted Croz. “Parliament will be a very different environment. If FijFirst wins and Bainimarama forms Fiji’s next government, his power will be limited by law.”
Bainimarama is normally a friendly person who enjoys being with people. I am optimistic that this positive side of his personality will be used to good effect in Parliament, and the “short fuse” kept in check. 
This incident is only the latest in a long line of erratic and even violent behavior by Fiji's self-appointed prime minister. Former U.S. ambassador Larry Dinger outlined a litany of abuse in cables made public in 2011 by Wikileaks. Dinger quipped that “a psychiatrist would have a field day with Bainimarama,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
The US embassy reports also document cases of rape and sexual assault by military personnel, including at least one instance of a group of detainees forced to engage in group sexual acts. In another case a prominent human rights activist was “felt up” by a senior military officer and was “warned she would receive worse treatment unless she stopped her activities.”
Then, of course, there is Bainimarama’s shameful treatment of Father Kevin Barr, a former supporter who made the mistake of joking in a letter to the editor last year that, given the loans received from that country, Fiji should consider incorporating the flag of China into its flag instead of the Union Jack. The Catholic priest recounted then receiving a telephone call from an angry Bainimarama, who called him “a fucked up priest.” Then came the text messages. “Fuck U arsehole, . . Start saying your goodbyes Father Kevin James Barr,  Australian national, work permit as a missionary, expiry date for permit 31/12/2013. . . Go and be  a missionary in China.” Tales of Bainimarama’s out-of-control drinking have long circulated around Suva, including one recent incident in which he is said to have publicly soiled himself. It would be understandable if the citizens of Fiji decided on Wednesday that such an idiot, thug and monster is not fit to lead their country.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Criminalising the public sphere

The public sphere, as conceived by German scholar Jurgen Habermas, is the space in society where people can freely discuss social issues and influence political action. It has been described as “a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment.” The public sphere, according to Habermas, should be open to all citizens, who should be unrestricted in contributing to societal debate. It thus requires the preconditions of freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The media, according to Habermas, are of particular importance for constituting and maintaining a public sphere. Discussions about the media have therefore been of particular importance in public sphere theory. To Habermas, the height of the public sphere was seen in the early days of newspapers in 19th Century England, where gentlemen would congregate in coffee houses to consider and debate the latest news. With the 20th Century, however, the press began to become co-opted by commercial interests, which appropriated the public sphere for its own purposes of marketing and restricting participation in the political process. Habermas’ seminal book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere was published in German in 1962 but not translated into English until 1989, when his ideas caught like wildfire with Western scholars.

Shamima Ali: “baseless accusations . . . uttered for political gain.”
The relevance for Fiji, of course, is that the public sphere there has been not so much co-opted by commercial interests as criminalised by the state. Nowhere else in the world have prison sentences and fines been written into law in order to restrict participation in the public sphere. The consequences of this draconian action by self-appointed prime minister Frank Bainimarama reached new heights (or depths) of absurdity this week when the crackpot dictator publicly deplored the silence of non-governmental organisations after alleged racist and intolerant comments by opposition politicians. “Where are the human rights organisations now?” asked Bainmarma.
It seems like they are willing to sacrifice values that many of their members hold dear simply to stand in opposition to my Government and its reforms. This isn’t leadership. This is cowardice and political calculation at its worst.
The only problem is that NGOs are prohibited from speaking out on election issues by Section 115 of the Electoral Decree, which was imposed by the Bainimarama’s regime earlier this year and since amended to prevent several opposition candidates from running. This is tantamount to the government putting a muzzle on NGOs and then accusing them of cowardice for not being able to speak. His criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Shamima Ali, chair of the Coalition for Human Rights.
Everyone knows that we spoke out against section 115 of the electoral decree because it more or less muzzled NGO’s in the lead up to elections in September. It took away our rights as citizens to take part in political debates and discussions. . . . This sort of intimidation has forced us to refrain from any political issues. In other words, we adhered to the decree and then now we are being criticized for it.
The Electoral Decree basically disenfranchised NGOs politically, in sharp contrast to the Ghai draft constitution, which would have explicitly provided a role for NGOs in the political process. Instead, their participation in the political sphere during an election campaign may now be punished under the Electoral Decree by “a fine not exceeding $50,000 or . . . a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years,” or both.
It shall be unlawful for any person, entity or organisation . . . that receives any funding or assistance from a foreign government, inter-governmental or non-governmental organisation or multilateral agency to engage in, participate in or conduct any campaign (including organising debates, public forum, meetings, interviews, panel discussions, or publishing any material) that is related to the election or any election issue or matter.
The Political Parties Decree  prohibits any trade union officer from standing for election, further constraining the public sphere, and academics have also been shut out of the political process because universities have required them to resign if they want to run in the election. The Media Decree, of course, allows for fines up to $100,000 and prison terms of up to two years for journalists and media organisations that report anything deemed to be contrary to the national interest. As a result, journalists have engaged in heavy self-censorship, at least those not engaged in attacking regime critics on behalf of the dictatorship. As for the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of association, Amnesty International has done an excellent job in chronicling how they have been curtailed, by decree, in Fiji.

The result has been nothing less than the criminalisation of the public sphere in Fiji, where speaking out can find you lighter in the wallet or, worse, land you in prison. It is the antithesis of the ideal of open public discussion of social and political issues as envisioned by Habermas, and a harsh indictment of the Fiji dictatorship. Will it result in a free and fair election next month? I think you know the answer to that question.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Amnesty International: Fiji must end “climate of fear”

Amnesty International has issued a damning report which calls for the restoration of basic human rights in Fiji, including those of free expression and a free press. “A combination of draconian laws, a pattern of intimidation and harassment of those who are critical of the government, as well as reports of torture and other ill-treatment by the security forces,” it points out, “have created a climate of fear.”

The report comes six weeks before the country is to hold elections intended to restore democracy after almost eight years of military rule. The Amnesty report casts doubt on whether the elections will be free and fair, however, given regime-imposed restrictions on basic human rights, including freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and the press. “Those rights still remain restricted in law, policy and practice, therefore deterring people from speaking freely,” the report states. “Fiji’s current government must commit to protecting and respecting human rights in the lead up to elections, including by lifting restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and refraining from acts of intimidation or harassment against political candidates, civil society organizations, journalists and others.” Amnesty points to the multitudinous decrees imposed by the regime that restrict basic human rights. 
Amnesty International is concerned that the government continues to use decrees to criminalize peaceful political activities and to arrest, detain, fine and imprison people for the peaceful exercise of their human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Further, human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders in Fiji continue to face harassment and intimidation solely for carrying out their legitimate work peacefully.
The decrees include the Public Order Amendment Decree, the Crimes Decree, and the Media Decree, which include “hefty” fines and even imprisonment for people exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. “A journalist may face two years in prison for publishing something which is not in the ‘public interest,’” the report notes. “A person may be imprisoned for five years for saying something which ‘undermines the economy of Fiji.’ In addition to this, a person attending a public meeting without a permit or who breaches permit conditions can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined $10,000.”
Heavy fines and jail terms can be imposed on the media for publications that “threaten the public interest or order, is against national interest, offends good taste or creates communal discord.” Collectively, these restrictions in law, policy and practice have compromised frank and fearless media reporting.
Contempt of court proceedings have also been used to stifle expression, the report points out, and concerns have been raised about the independence of media outlets, “including a failure to provide equal space to different political candidates and refusal to publish letters or articles which are critical of the government.” The restrictions, combined with heavy fines for breaching the regulations imposing them, have “stifled open debate on key matters of national interest.”
The media must be empowered to publish a diverse range of views, including criticism of government or of political candidates, without fear of retribution. To achieve this, the government should lift existing restrictions on the media and ensure that journalists will not be subject to prosecution, intimidation or harassment for the peaceful exercise of their right to express and publish diverse views.
The report also points to a number of people who have been “subjected to politically-motivated charges for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, resulting in lengthy and costly court battles, including criminal charges against two former Prime Ministers.” A student recently had his government scholarship revoked for “associating in political agendas,” notes the report, “after he had spent a day volunteering with an independent opposition candidate for elections.” It also highlights the arrest of protesters calling for changes in the Constitution and calling for the government’s budget to be made public in 2013 and the refusal of permission for a number of planned peaceful protests. “In addition, the police have disbanded a number of private meetings, including an internal staff meeting of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (July 2012) and private gatherings of politicians,” the report notes. “These cases show a disturbing pattern of interference with the right to peaceful assembly and association.”

The Fiji Times . . . deluxe forever
The report calls on the regime to repeal provisions of the Constitution, Public Order Amendment Decree, Media Industry Development Decree, and the Crimes Decree which criminalize freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. It also notes that the rights to form or join a trade union and to collectively bargain, while supposedly protected in the Constitution, have been rendered “almost meaningless” by regime decrees. The Essential National Industries Decree severely curtails the right to strike, bans overtime payments and voids existing collective agreements for workers in key sectors of the economy, including sugar, aviation and tourism. The Political Parties Decree, the Electoral Decree, and the Constitution prevent trade union officials from engaging in political activity or even campaigning on issues such as workers’ rights. “Amnesty International is deeply concerned at the failure to respect workers’ rights in Fiji, including through restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association for workers,” states the report, noting that a a high-level mission from the International Labour Organisation was expelled from Fiji in 2012. “The ILO has identified Fiji as one of five countries where workers’ rights violations are the most serious and urgent.” 

It also condemns recent instances of torture, which were condoned by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and interference by the government with judges and lawyers contrary to international law and standards. It points to the arbitrary removal of judges, lack of security of tenure, and reports of executive interference in the judiciary. “Collectively, this undermines the independence of the judiciary. An independent judiciary is critical to ensuring that victims of human rights violations can seek redress through national courts.” The report does commit one embarrasing gaffe, attributing a statement made by NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad to Bainimarama. “On 12 June 2014, Prime Minister Bainimarama stated on Fiji One TV, People who are opinion makers, academics, NGOs, trade union officials, they’ve all been banned from taking part in political activities and actually talking about the issues.’” Oops, that was Biman. It didn’t sound like something Frank would say. . . .

Amnesty also published on its website a blog entry by a student activist in Fiji who pointed to the suppression of the draft constitution drawn up by an independent commission almost two years ago and the withholding of several years worth of Auditor General’s reports as evidence of political repression. “Once again the lacking consent and genuinity [sic.] behind such actions, leaves us in a state of repressed dissatisfaction, frustration and worst of all, disempowerment,” lamented Jope Tarai. 
The fact that the Ghai draft constitution was thrown out, after it inadvertently provided opposing views to the regime, indicates the continuing possibility of genuinely laid plans for participation and engagement of the people, to be subjected to the regime’s whims and self-serving interests, at a drop of a hat. . .  . The old Bainimarama one-liner and overused cliché of shaming all old politicians as being corrupt and deceitful, now leaves him no different from them, as he has become the same politician that he loves to malign.
Coup apologists are predictably furious, especially Crosbie Walsh, who claims that Amnesty has been “hoodwinked” by Fiji informants. “I  have donated to Amnesty International for many years but have now stopped,” spat Croz on his blog. “This article provides an example of why I have changed my opinion about the quality of their work.”
Their assessment of the Fiji situation is based on reports from those opposed to the Bainimarama Government. Their allegations are dated, exaggerated, and they appear to make no efforts to verify what they are told. AA was not formed to take sides during an election campaign.
No, Amnesty International was formed to shine a light on human rights violations worldwide, and it has rightly highlighted ongoing and relentless outrages in Fiji. Croz, who quit the blogging game late last year but has recently made a comeback for the election campaign, seems to be saying that those opposed to Bainimarama should not be listened to, making him a veritable cheerleader for the suppression of freedom of expression. He also suggests that any political repression by the regime is either trifling or in the past. Not so, as has been chronicled on this blog and elsewhere. Bainimarama is doing his very best to shut up any political opposition, which will ensure his election, and he is doing it with virtual impunity domestically because the media in Fiji are by and large too intimidated to make much noise about it. The regime is also moving the goalposts on a regular basis across what is already an uphill political playing field for any who dare to oppose Bainimarama. His latest move to amend the Electoral Decree to include a two-year residency requirement for candidates, which renders ineligible three NFP candidates, has opposition parties livid.

Bainimarama is currently in New Zealand campaigning, but ironically the Fijian citizens whose votes he will be asking for have effectively been rendered second-class citizens because under this amendment none of them are now able to run for office. It will be interesting to see how a free press covers his visit. What fun and games! You simply couldn’t make this stuff up, and I’m sure it’s only going to get better as election day approaches. If only Grubby were around to join in the fun. Actually, he’s still here. He’s just lurking, for the sake of his employability in Australia, under his new identity: “Anonymous.” Just try leaving a critical comment on the Crozblog and he’ll jump all over you. That’s right, the international award-winning journalist has been reduced to subsisting as an Internet troll. He and Esther make quite the pair.

UPDATE: Victor Lal over at Fijileaks has dug up a dilly. This letter shows what can happen to your village should someone there speak ill of the regime.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

ASK’s complaints about media coverage absurd

The constipated Attorney-General went on the offensive last week against his favorite target – the news media  accusing them of lacking expertise and being biased. (Yes, the word media is a plural, which no one in the Southern Hemisphere seems to realize.) There is no doubt that working journalists in Fiji lack expertise, most of the best having been driven out of the profession by low pay and the junta’s media repression over the past eight years. But for the most part, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum’s complaints about a “he said, she said” style of journalism are fairly absurd when one considers that his regime has been pushing “balance” as the highest ideal of journalism, aside from simply asking the government what to report, of course. And don’t get me started on media bias. Then again. . . . .

He’s no doubt having another journalist sacked
Sayed Khaiyum expressed his frustration at reporting of the ongoing election campaign in a press conference at FijiFist offices on Thursday. “I think the level of analysis is very, very shallow,” he said. “Still many of the journalists are very much ‘he said that, she said that.’ They don’t carry out any analysis themselves whereas there should be two to three journalists to carry that out and read facts for themselves. . . . It seems that the media organisations don’t want to go and gather information themselves. They still have this culture of ‘this leader said, the other politician said that’ and that’s all they do, so that’s not very good coverage and what we find again is the lack of media organisation’s [sic.] ability to bring information to members of the public; independent information; correct information but you know also I think some media organisations are still really biased.”

“He said, she said” reporting has its roots in the ethic of objectivity, behind which many news media hide, preferring to let both sides have their say and eschewing any duty to sort out who might be playing fast and loose with the facts. Its danger was pointed up by the rise of McCarthyism in the U.S. during the 1950s, as the junior senator from Wisconsin began loudly proclaiming that he had a list of so many Communists in the government. (The number kept changing.) Most reporters simply reported McCarthy's claims without looking into their accuracy. They turned out to be wildly overblown, but not before the careers of many were ruined by being blacklisted. A turn away from objectivity resulted in the 1960s and today the prevailing ethic is fairness rather than balance and objectivity.

Of course, a more analytical form of reporting would be preferable in Fiji, but it is way beyond anything that journalism as practiced there is capable of providing. Even in advanced democracies with highly skilled journalists, “he said, she said” reporting is the norm. It’s something Jay Rosen of NYU has been railing against for years, even from such august publications as the New York Times. His nagging has had some effect, at least on National Public Radio, which officially repudiated the practice a couple of years ago. In Fiji, where the best and most experienced journalists fled either overseas or into higher-paying positions in public relations years ago, most reporters seem to have difficulty even stringing together a coherent sentence, must less providing insightful analysis. It’s a testament to the poor level of public education, but also to the almost laughable level of journalism education. I’m glad that I was at least able to leave behind one cohort, maybe two, of journalism students who have been well drilled in the basics of reporting, not to mention in what the basic duties of a journalist are. (Hint: Being a mouthpiece for the government isn’t one of them.) That will no doubt be changing with the recent return of the “Journalism of Hope” to a certain regional university.

At issue with Sayed Khaiyum, apparently, are reports both on the economy and on the size of a crowd. When it comes to the economy, the junta obviously prefers the news media to get their facts from government agencies so it can control what is reported. But that wasn’t what seemed to have ASK upset the most. He obviously thought the crowd at last weekend’s “Family Fun Day” put on by his party was much larger than was reported in the Fiji Times.
Anybody who knows how to count will tell you that there weren’t 500 people at Sukuna Park on Saturday at midday; there were more like 5000 people but some media organisations were saying that there were 500 people. I mean these are the kind of things that the media organisations and some of these journalists are doing it deliberately; whether they cannot count or whether they are somewhat not very proactive in terms of getting information, I think this is something that needs to be improved upon.
The issue of crowd estimates is a thorny one for news media, which usually have to rely on the police to provide them. As the police are responsible for crowd control, they usually have a handle on how many are in attendance. I’m guessing that such an estimate was not provided to reporters, who were forced to come up with an estimate of their own and possibly erred on the low side. Or it’s quite possible that from his perspective as a partisan, ASK saw what he wanted to see at his party’s bash and estimated the crowd at closer to 5,000. Media bias, after all, is largely a matter of perspective. It has been well established that partisans see news media coverage as biased against them. It’s known as the Hostile Media Effect and has been the subject of considerable research. It was discovered at Stanford in 1982 when Arab and Israeli partisans were shown the same news coverage from the Middle East and both sides saw it as biased against their side. It is a phenomenon that has been confirmed repeatedly in replications. It is no doubt also extant in Fiji. 

But, perceptions aside, media bias also undoubtedly exists, as has also been confirmed repeatedly by research. I have never quite seen media bias as in Fiji, where some media outlets slavishly promote the junta and others cower against its bullying. The question becomes, will certain media outlets stand up against the bullying and report what is really going on. ASK and his dictator puppet have good reason to be concerned if the Fiji Times and Fiji TV do just that and begin to report what seems to be a bit of an uprising against the regime on the eve of elections next month. The A-G may have just put his foot in it at his press conference when he actually complained about a lack of news media coverage on the defacing of a taxi emblazoned with FijiFist colours (well, more accurately Fiji colours) and apparent death threats against party officials. The story had actually been reported two weeks ago by the A-G’s brother’s TV network. But ASK’s complaining about it opened the door for the Times to report the story.  FBC also ran another story on the vandalism, which has also apparently included the defacing of FijiFist posters. ASK may soon regret opening this Pandora’s Box, because if the trend gathers momentum as a result of copycat attacks, things could get ugly fast for the dictatorship.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Raj to demand media policies: Narsey

According to Professor Wadan Narsey, MIDA honcho Ashwin Raj plans to follow through on his threats to demand written policies from Fiji media outlets, although from the wording of Raj’s ramblings it seems to be print media only so far. The move will come with less than two months to go before the planned September elections which will hopefully return Fiji to democratic rule from military. 

Narsey published on his blog an email from Raj to MIDA director Matai Akauola which asks that it be circulated to Fiji media outlets. In it, Raj seems to seek Akauola’s agreement that such a demand is reasonable. It refers to policies regarding publication of “opinion pieces, [and] letters to the editor.” As usual, Raj takes pains to absolve himself in advance of any possible press repression. “This is an important issue about access and equity and must not be misconstrued as MIDA muzzling media freedom,” he writes.

Raj also appears to back off his plan for a media monitoring unit, which with the coming election might smack just a bit too much of regime intimidation. “The mainstream media unequivocally rejected,” the plan for a media monitoring unit, Raj writes, “even though such an initiative has been undertaken in many advanced liberal democracies that are strong on freedom of expression.” Here he is mistaken, as most media monitoring operations are not government-run but rather done by academics, NGOs, or professional pollsters. To have government scrutinizing news media coverage on the eve of elections would just validate perceptions that Fiji’s ruling junta is tightening the screws on media, which are already heavily co-opted or intimidated. Doubtless media advisors Qorvis scotched this idea.

The full text follows.
Dear Matai,
You will attest to the fact that on several occasions, I have requested the mainstream media to disclose their in-house editorial policy. In the interest of transparency, the public should know exactly the rationale behind the publishing of select articles, opinion pieces, letters to the editor to the exclusion of others. There are some who have received unfettered access and prominence in select media outlets and still lamenting that their contributions are being heavily censored while there are those who are complaining that they have no access to mainstream media at all.
I had also suggested the idea of setting up a media monitoring unit which the mainstream media unequivocally rejected even though such an initiative has been undertaken in many advanced liberal democracies that are strong on freedom of expression.
So the onus is really on the media to substantiate their claim that they have in place an in house editorial policy that ensures that the media is balanced, that they are committed to ensuring access and equity and are transparent at all times.
 This is an important issue about access and equity and must not be misconstrued as MIDA muzzling media freedom. How does the mainstream media ensure that there is balance?
 To date, I have received nothing from the media houses. I am now requiring the media to disclose this.
 Appreciate it if you can circulate this e mail to the media. Can we convene an editors roundtable soon please?
 Regards,
Ashwin. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Fiji, one must choose between being an advocate for media freedom and a journalist


By Shaivalini Parmar
Human Rights Watch

In Fiji, one must choose between being an advocate for media freedom and a journalist.
The chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), the government body tasked with regulating the media, advised a prominent local journalist in March to make exactly that distinction in his work—providing a revealing insight on the position of media freedom in the island-nation. In Fiji, the practice of free journalism remains limited by government retribution against those who are perceived as critical of the ruling administration.

Special Broadcasting Service
Parliamentary elections, scheduled for September, should be Fiji’s first democratic elections in nearly eight years. The country has been without an elected government since Rear Admiral Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a December 2006 military coup. Bainimarama’s government arrested, arbitrarily detained, and imposed hefty fines against journalists.  Foreign journalists, including Sean Dorney of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who have reported on topics that the government perceived as controversial, have been summarily deported.

Multiple cases of government interference of media

As elections near, allegations of government intimidation and interference with the media have resurfaced. Newsrooms no longer host censors as in the immediate post-coup period, specifically after the Public Emergency Regulations (an act that gave authorities absolute control in determining legitimate journalism) was lifted in 2012.

But the draconian 2010 Media Decree remains in place. The decree imposes severe penalties on any publication that MIDA deems threatening to “public interest or order.” Journalists found guilty of violating the vaguely worded decree can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to 100,000 Fijian dollars. The decree also severely restricts foreign media ownership in Fiji. In addition, the government also issued the Television Amendment Decree of 2012, demanding that all broadcasting comply with the provisions of the Media Decree. It threatened to discontinue Fiji TV’s license if it broadcasted anything perceived of as “anti-government.”

And where official censorship may not occur as blatantly as in the past, this last month alone has seen multiple cases of government interference and intimidation of the media. On June 25, MIDA called for the investigation of two journalism academics from the University of the South Pacific (USP) who commented on the military’s use of torture and on the state of media freedom in Fiji. The authority lambasted the pair, claiming the statements were both unsubstantiated and could cause irreparable damage to Fiji.

In another incident in late June, MIDA denied accreditation to a prominent Fiji-based journalist, effectively barring his attendance of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in Nadi. —an act that was condemned by regional media rights groups for its lack of transparency and due process. 

Pressure on media to provide pro-government coverage

Critics have alleged that there is increasing pressure on local media to provide strictly pro-government coverage. With past contempt cases against local news outlets including the Fiji Times—in 2013 a Fiji High Court verdict imposed on it a fine of 300,000 Fijian Dollars for republishing an article questioning judicial freedom in Fiji—it is likely that publishers will continue to verge on the side of caution. The repercussions from acting to the contrary are too severe.

In a paradoxical move this past month, the government sponsored a series of voter awareness and media training sessions. But without a critical basis for unbiased reporting and open debate, these programs are rendered meaningless. When major news sources are deterred from publishing anti-government views, it creates an unbalanced playing field that will give pro-government parties an advantage in the upcoming polls.

Authorities have met all allegations of censorship and harassment with denialMIDA chairman Ashwin Raj described the USP Journalism academic’s statements as “unsubstantiated and anachronistic,” maintaining that journalists need to stay clear of debating between legality and legitimacy, and contending that journalists continue to hold a “plurality of voices.” However, as evidenced by the authority’s response and subsequent call for investigation, it is clear that certain voices are excluded from that same plurality.

If the government is committed to a democratic transition, it should cease the harassment of journalists ahead of the elections. It is imperative that authorities lift restrictions on the media, including both the 2012 Public Order Amendment Decree and the 2010 Media Decree.

Shaivalini Parmar is a senior associate with the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Will Fiji Times dodge a bullet in Kabakoro case?

Suppression orders are routine in cases of domestic violence in most countries, a fact which apparently escaped just about everyone yesterday after word leaked out that the dictator’s son Meli Bainimarama and his beautiful bride of only six months, Hosanna Kabakoro, had both been arrested and charged after a weekend altercation. Most cases of domestic violence go unnoticed by the media, of course, but this one has a double dose of the news value we call Prominence. Any time celebrities are involved, the newsworthiness of a story goes up, and this one was too sensational for a couple of Fiji news outlets to resist. Unfortunately for them, that is a crime under the 2009 Domestic Violence Decree, which allows for a suppression order to be made on the names of the parties involved. The intent is to protect the victim, of course, but the name of the accused is also usually banned from publication if a suppression order is made because publishing it would tend to identify the victim. The question in this case is exactly who is the victim.

Please don't spoil her beautiful face
After the Fiji Times and FBC ran stories naming the couple on Monday, Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde sent a memo around to media outlets informing them that a suppression order had been made. He also ordered media to immediately retract any account of the proceedings that had been published or broadcast. It would be impossible to recall every copy of the Times that had been printed, of course, but the newspaper did remove the story it had posted on its website, as did FBC. From the wording of Pryde’s memo, the order was made on Monday morning. It was likely made after regular business hours commenced, or several hours after the Fiji Times would have hit the streets. This could save the Times, which was fined $300,000 for contempt of court a couple of years ago. Another conviction would likely bring an even larger fine, which could potentially bankrupt the newspaper.

The question becomes, did FBC air the story before or after the suppression order was made? According to Google, its story was posted online five hours after the Fiji Times story. If it was aired after the suppression order was made, it could be in hot water. We would be amazed, however, if the regime-friendly broadcaster, which is run by the brother of Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, suffers any consequences. If it doesn’t and the Times does, then there will be much justified howling about favoritism.

The evidence
Word of the story leaked out Sunday on Facebook, with Fairfax New Zealand reporter Michael Field posting a cryptic item that basically dared Fiji media to investigate. “Reliable reports coming out of Suva that a key figure in the military regime is in police custody and his wife is in hospital in a bad way,” he wrote. “Local media too frightened to report.” Field reported the story on Monday, but committed an embarrassing spelling mistake. As if to prove Field wrong, the Times surprisingly ran with the story, perhaps without getting legal advice, reporting that Kabakoro suffered lacerations to her hands and bruises on her body.

According to Repúblika magazine, in a Facebook post that has also been removed, Meli Bainimarama faces four counts of assault, was released on $3,000 bail, was ordered not to have any contact with his wife, and will appear in court again on August 11. Kabakoro was also bailed, according to Repúblika, “but must appear in the High Court in the next court date because her charges are more severe. She is charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.” Repúblika also reported that an interim suppression order had been issued, which could spell trouble for the Times and FBC, both of which reported the story after the couple had appeared in court and been released on bail.

To make the story even more newsworthy, Kakaboro is herself a journalist, being an editor at Mai Life magazine and a former Miss Congeniality in the 2010 Miss Teen USA contest. Her family fled Fiji following the 2000 coup and she attended the University of Southern Idaho. She shacked up with Meli Bainimarama, a former soldier who now runs his own company of mercenaries and lives with his parents, and actually moved into the dictator's home with him last year, according to Field. Their New Year’s nuptials were not without controversy, Field reported, although not as much controversy as the wedding of the dictator’s daughter eight years previously. (No wonder the junta slurpers hate Field so much. He gets all the dirt.)
The couple decided to marry on December 21, but a family row blew up and the couple left for Nadi – and a small family-free wedding on New Year’s Eve at a luxury resort. Fiji media sources say local media have been told not to report any of the drama. The daily Fiji Times instead devoted its front page to the Boxing Day wedding of a Fiji clan leader, Anare Peni, 71, to one Merelita Canauvi, 20.
The most prominent person in this story, of course, is the dictator himself, and the blogs are having a field day with the hypocrisy involved. “How many lectures have we had from the leader of Fiji Fist on domestic violence?” asked Fiji Democracy Now. “From the start there has been a contradiction between the high sounding regime rhetoric and the practice.” Not six weeks ago, the dictator called violence against women a “national disgrace” and vowed to crack down on it. “It is time for all of us to think long and hard about the treatment of women in our nation because the continuing level of domestic violence in Fiji,” he said. “Through my government’s initiatives, the police have adopted a policy of zero tolerance of all violence against women.” It will be interesting to see who gets cracked down as a result of this sorry incident – husband, wife, or media.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Some excellent questions from Wadan Narsey

Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with quantity from Wadan Narsey that we lose sight of the quality of his observations. He has been researching and writing about Fiji’s economy for decades, and he has a broad understanding of how things work there. He and I are basically on the same page WRT Fiji media, except that he focuses primarily on ownership, which is my usual perspective. I believe that with the small number of players and the heavy hand of government dominating the media landscape in Fiji, ownership is not yet a consideration. The suppression of voices of dissent is an impediment to democracy ever visiting these shores again. If ever voices of opposition are ever heard here again, that will be a sign that media freedom is increasing.

Professor Narsey has posted a list of questions for MIDA boss Ashwin Raj. While waiting for his undoubtedly eloquent response, I offer my own answers and/or snarky asides, in italics.
“Questions for MIDA and Ashwin Raj”  also sent as Open Letter to Editor 
(The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Island Business) 3 July 2014.
Chairman MIDA  
Dear Mr Raj
I totally agree with, and support your constant reminder to the public, that MIDA should not be, and is not just concerned about media freedom and/or media censorship, but also the overall good development of the industry, as is clearly indicated by the name, Media Industry Development Authority.  
I would be grateful therefore if you would answer the following media development questions, which have been raised directly and indirectly in the public arena over the last year or so, some with you as well.  
1.         Earlier in the year, you gave a commitment at the World Press Freedom Day panel that you had written to the editors of the newspapers, seeking clarification of their policies on what letters to publish and not.  
(a)       Could you please tell the public what has been their response and whether MIDA is comfortable with their position.
Newspapers may have a written policy on letters to the editor. It is unlikely they have a written policy on news content. They may have a code of ethics. See Warren Breed’s "Social Control in the Newsroom” (1955) 
(b)       Could you also please ask all the television and radio stations what their policy is on interviewing experts on public policy issues in various fields (for example, the humble field of economics which all political parties, candidates and voters are focused on currently)?    
The foremost Fijian expert on economics is probably running against Bainimarama. Dean Biman Prasad is a keen intellect who puts school-leaver Bainimarama to shame. The media will have to interview him. Professor Narsey would be a close second, with nobody else really close behind, but the media will interview him only reluctantly, as he is well-known for telling the truth.  
2.         As a “level playing field” is an essential part of the development of a free, fair, competitive and transparent media industry, could you please inform the public what is your position on:  
(a) tax-payers advertisement funds being channelled by the Bainimarama Government only to Fiji Sun with The Fiji Times, the oldest Fijian newspaper, being totally denied
This is squarely in the political economy field which Professor Narsey and I share. Money talks, and you knows what walks. The junta has not been shy about putting its money where its marching orders are.
(b) outright subsidies given to FBC via government budget and government guarantees of loans from FDB, with no such subsidies given to either Fiji TV or the other radio broadcasters, Communications Fiji Ltd.
See above. Through the purchasing power of the Fiji government – or more correctly the borrowing power – the junta has been able to import the latest techniques of public opinion shaping. Qorvis is small potatoes in its own country, but by controlling the media, and thus public opinion, it can basically rule Fiji.
(c) the clearly intimidating renewal of the license for Fiji TV on a six monthly basis, while FBC TV suffers from no such restriction 
Richard Naidu was never more correct than when he described it as less a licence than a “good behaviour bond.”  
(d) While Fiji TV’s accounts are available to the shareholders, FBC accounts are not available at all to the taxpayers who supposedly own FBC.
There has been a decided lack of transparency in Fiji, especially on the part of the government.
(e) Mai TV’s “scoop” at obtaining rights to the broadcast of FIFA World Cup (a legitimate entrepreneurial transaction admired in the business world) being forcibly shared by decree amongst the other broadcasters, on financial terms dictated by the Bainimarama Government rather than negotiated amongst themselves as a market transaction.
“Reward your friends and punish your enemies,” Samuel Gompers, 1850-1924. Enough said.
3.         Given that you (and the PS Ministry of Information Sharon Smith Johns) have often publicly admonished journalists to be “robust” and “boldly investigative” in their work, did you query Fiji TV and the owners Fijian Holdings Limited why respected senior journalist and administrator Mr Anish Chand was sacked from Fiji TV on this year’s World Press Freedom day, because of complaints from the Bainimarama Government (as was related to you during the World Press Freedom Day panel at USP).
From all accounts, the order to fire Chand came from ASK. Raj was hired by ASK. And he would query this. . . why?
4.         Can you inform the public what your reaction is to this obvious “intimidation” (to use a euphemism) of a senior experienced award winning journalist, which clearly encourages other journalists to “self-censor” in the interests of their jobs and family welfare?   You might wish to know that well before you became Chairman of MIDA, Anish Chand had also been demoted in 2010 for having friends in the National Federation Party, while another colleague of his at Fiji TV, Merana Kitione, was also removed from her area of expertise and work, for similar reasons.
Only in Bizarro World would Mr Raj be able to give you a reaction to the obvious intimidation of journalists in Fiji, because he has been the one most pro-active in intimidating them.
Yours sincerely 
Professor Wadan Narsey Suva