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

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