Citizens of democratic countries should think twice before doing anything which helps the coup-installed interim government of Fiji. That's according to Nick Naidu, from the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji, who is based in New Zealand.
He says news that a New Zealand company called Streamcom, who wrote a report on the broadcasting spectrum in Fiji which led the interim government to revoke all of the country's broadcasting licenses, is deeply disappointing.
Mr Naidu says while there could be a completely innocent explanation for the move, he's suspicious about the interim government's motives.
Presenter: Bruce Hill Radio Australia
Speaker: Simon Jackson, head of Streamcon; Nick Naidu, New Zealand-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji
NAIDU: It sort of tend towards the sinister argument for the reason that the timing is quite interesting, it's a time when shortly after the media has been censored and it appears that the censorship hasn't worked as well as the regime most probably wanted it. So could this be a way to further control or muzzle those organisations or media outlets that were not playing ball with the regime.
HILL: The report that these moves were actually based on was conducted by a New Zealand company based in Auckland, Streamcom. Do you have any concerns about companies from outside Fiji being involved in this kind of thing which results in such a political decision?
NAIDU: It's very sad that while the people of Fiji the average person is suffering, and poverty is getting out of control, unemployment at its highest level, the economy is suffering. While all that is going on we have New Zealand and Australia as governments are standing up and imposing sanctions but at the same time a lot in the private and education sector, professional areas have decided to go and support this illegal regime with no concern ethically for what they're doing and the harm that they're doing to Fiji as a nation and its people by indirectly giving the regime a stamp of approval.
HILL: It's not just one company doing this; they're a number of companies and individuals that are actually helping out the Fiji government from countries like Australia and New Zealand aren't there?
NAIDU: Of course I mean that's always been the case but I think this time around there should have been some people who should have actually stood on principle and not gone and supported it. We have many people in the current regime, very close advisors, people who work in the civil service and the judiciary, the Chief Justice is an example, the Director of Public Prosecutions, all have taken oath under an illegal regime that has abrogated the constitution and compromised the judiciary, they've all been happy to serve and are continuing to serve what basically amounts to a government that's working against the people of Fiji.
HILL: But Simon Jackson, head of the company which wrote the report on the use of Fiji's broadcast frequency spectrum says such criticisms are wide of the mark. He says Fiji's interim government is simply trying to clean up the allocation of frequencies after years of neglect, and there were no political motivations involved.
JACKSON: I agree that there should be an ethical basis to the work you do for anyone, whether it's a government or another company. And the fact is we would not have undertaken this work if we believed that there was any ill intent. In actual fact what we believe is happening is that the Fijian government currently is trying to address years of neglect and mismanagement and actually corruption, we've found evidence of that in the way that the radio spectrum has been managed in Fiji. So we a tender to do some work to actually come up with a strategy for reorganising their broadcast band and I think you can see from the reaction of people like CSL, who have over 60 per cent of the market in Fiji radio, commercial radio, and people like My Television; these are the ones who if the government actually had some nefarious intent, these are the ones who would be concerned. And they're not saying that, what they're saying is look, this is good, there's been a problem here that needs to be sorted out. Also the fact that the Fijian government is involving the ITU, which is the International Telecommunications Union, they're actually an arm of the UN. So it's not like this is something where somebody has decided let's find a cunning way to take frequencies away from people, because to be honest if indeed they were acting as an evil dictatorship they could do that without having to go to this extreme couldn't they? They're doing a lot of work and doing it in the right way for somebody who's trying to do something underhand.
HILL: How did your company feel about doing business with the Fiji regime? Are their countries and regimes that you wouldn't do business with and where does Fiji fall in that sort of spectrum as far as you're concerned?
JACKSON: Yes absolutely, we did some research first, I mean one of the first things we did on our own bat is that we did a visit to the site to actually Fiji and we took some time to talk to people in the Fijian community here in New Zealand, and look honestly it was very confusing. I found conversations that we were having with people on the street and people in New Zealand, like the first time that we approached somebody, we said oh look isn't it terrible what's going on in Fiji? And this guy who was an ethnic Fijian came and said no, it was great, and that kind of really confused us. But we have found more people supporting the changes if you like, plenty of people who may not support the regime, actually may not support the people doing the reforms, but it's really hard to find somebody who doesn't actually agree with the intent.
HILL: But Nick Naidu thinks there's a wider principle at stake. He says citizens of democracy should be careful they don't do things which might prop up a regime based on principles they themselves wouldn't like to live under.
NAIDU: Well I think one, the professional organisations that these individuals or companies belong to should speak out. The governments concerned should support their sanctions by also making it clear to the private sector what their views are in terms of doing business as usual with Fiji. And I think it's a sad reflection on society as a whole in New Zealand and Australia where people that are supporting regimes around the world, doing business with them like normal are living normal lives and enjoying democracy in these countries, while they're going out there supporting dictatorships in other countries. It's a really sad indictment on the democracy that we live in.
HILL: You think the people in Australia and New Zealand take their democracy a bit for granted perhaps?
NAIDU: Of course they take it for granted but at the same time they should be aware of the fact that their actions or the actions of their people are also in a way hypocritical because you want democracy to prevail across the world and when you are propping up illegal regimes by giving them financial assistance or indirect technical assistance, then you're actually working against your basic principles and ethics. And that's where the question lies, do people actually have ethics and as countries, as nations, as people, as organisations in this such as the Law Society in Australia and New Zealand, they should reprimand those members for taking part and propping up illegal regimes like in Fiji.
HILL: But that characterisation that Fiji's coup installed interim government is disputed by Simon Jackson from Streamcom. He says corruption is no longer part of doing business in Fiji and that's a positive development.
JACKSON: When we were doing this work we had people coming to us and saying what did it cost you? People who had been doing business in Fiji for a long time, and we were saying what do you mean? And they said well how much did you have to pay to get the contract? And it appears that the normal operating procedure in Fiji has been that if you pay good money for a contract it would be rude to expect you to actually do the work. So we think, we didn't really notice any of that at all, but people we talked to they were sort of disbelieving that that's actually the way that things are happening at the moment.
HILL: On the other hand is that the sort of system that you yourself would feel happy living under, that system they have in Fiji at the moment?
JACKSON: Yeah well no probably not, I have to say I mean the issues of censorship to be honest I think are quite sort of overstated. We have in the course of doing this project spent some time on the ground. The stories about, we never saw a soldier, we never saw any evidence of the kind of behaviour which is described as being sort of everyday activity in Fiji. The one thing I came away from from actually meeting people in government there was that these people are not politicians, they make, they seem to have almost no media nous, they call a spade a spade. But what their intentions are seem to be really I guess noble - Radio Australia