With the illegal government of Fiji expected to pass the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 sooner rather than later, debate continues to rage over its draconian nature. Some of the current (and very robust) debate about the decree has been sparked by an article by Thakur Ranjit Singh, released to coincide with World Press Freedom Day on May the 3rd.
That opinion piece, The other side of Fiji's media decree debate, ran in Coupfourpointifve last Wednesday (it originally appeared in Pacific Scoop as an edited version of a longer paper), attracting numerous comments. This response from Mere Samisoni, of the SDL Party, was detailed and comprehensive enough to justify its own spot:
Singh is a member of Amnesty International, and so must have presented them with similar arguments to these before AI finally came out with their official position on the Fiji illegal regime’s media decree just this week. The fact that Amnesty came out so strongly against the media decree despite anything Singh might have presented, suggests that credible bodies like AI do not tend to put much stock in contrived, back-to-front arguments like Singh’s. Neither should we!
Singh has tried to draw parallels between the muzzling of the Fiji media today, and what happened to him back in 2001. But the difference between the Daily Post “clean out” of post-2000, and the post-2006 “clean out” of the entire Fiji media, has little to do with race. The owner of the Daily Post at the time simply made a decision that it did not want its money being used to print a newspaper that was viciously and unremittingly critical of it.
That is VERY different from the case of the post-2006 illegal regime which is using any means of manipulation or intimidation available to install illegal regime-friendly journalists at the head of ALL Fiji media, whether Government-controlled, or not.
Singh’s contention that race is such an over-riding factor in Fiji newsroom coverage is something straight out of a James Anthony ancient history class. While ethnicity and upbringing will certainly have some effect on personal perceptions and perspectives, Singh is positing one of two untenable arguments in his version of its journalistic role here. He is either saying that nothing – not training or individual experience/ability or anything – is more significant than race in determining journalistic disposition. Or he is saying that only more Indian editors and journalists can redress it. This kind of argument is not only grubby; it is also racist AND illogical.
That is because Indian editors, by Singh’s own arguments, would be just as hopelessly enslaved to their Indian perspectives as the current half-caste and Fijian ones are allegedly to theirs. Rather than decreasing media bias, Singh’s solution would at best just swap an Indian bias for a Half-Caste or Fijian one. At worst, it would ADD Indian biases to the existing ones. In other words, you could NEVER believe ANYTHING you read/heard/saw because the journo's personal ethnicity would instantly invalidate his/her own report or story.
Ignoring the racial implications of Singh’s own arguments for the moment, we find that some of the actual arguments he has advanced for his case don’t stand up to much scrutiny anyway. The departure of Vijendra Kumar from the Fiji Times, for example, had nothing whatsoever to do with Government pressure. Singh has offered neither argument nor proof to even suggest it was. He just asserted it.
In point of fact if there had been any hint of Government pressure to sack Kumar at the time, there would have been a huge hullabaloo from the Fiji Media Council (FMC), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Pacific Island News Association (PINA), the diplomatic and donor communities and various advocacy groups like the CCF. The Times itself would also have dug its heels in against the Qarase government, just as it now has against the present illegal regime. But no such indication ever emerged.
Singh’s race argument also doesn’t stand up in other respects either. Why for example if race is such a driving factor in Fiji media bias, has Anish Chand been recently demoted by Fiji TV at the illegal regime’s behest? Or why was Ranjit Singh himself sacked from Radio Fiji by the Indian-dominated People’s Coalition government in 1999? Singh’s race arguments are completely unable to explain developments like these.
Singh’s allusion to un-named “studies” questioning the fairness, balance and principle, or “abandoning democracy” under indigenous overseers, does not in any case constitute “carte blanche” grounds for the illegal regime to manipulate the media in any way it sees fit. Furthermore, quoting unnamed studies is a case-in-point example of the kind of unprincipled journalism Singh himself is trying to tar the Fiji media with.
In any event, fairness, balance and professionalism are not an end – they are a means. But if the media is ineffective to start with – i.e. if it can’t even do its job properly in the first instance (as it currently cannot in Fiji) because of self-serving interference by an interested party – then fairness, balance and principles are meaningless concepts. They simply cease to exist anyway in such an environment – by definition.
For example, the illegal regime’s post-Tomas cyclone relief effort has been, by all reports, pathetic. In normal times, such news would eventually end up in the media, the relevant authorities would get embarrassed and defend themselves, but would also simultaneously “jump” on their subordinates to get something done. Ditto for the rushed school bus-fare “subsidy” handouts that were shamelessly and needlessly wasted and abused last year. But what is the meaning of “fair” and “balanced” when such stories cannot even be covered in the Fiji media these days? How is any of that fair to the public?
The question must also be asked as to why “fairness” and “balance” are such important ingredients of the journalistic process anyway. They are important because they give the public the best platform from which to make informed decisions about certain issues. That is the point – that the public be permitted and facilitated to decide what is best for them. But once the public has made up its mind, the landscape of what is fair and what is balanced is IMMEDIATELY redefined.
In this respect, the journalistic process mirrors the judicial process. A defendant is given every opportunity to defend him/her-self before a competent and independent court. But if they are convicted, they will NOT get the same treatment as if they were acquitted. Neither should they expect to.
So it is with the court of public opinion, too! Remember, the whole point of presenting arguments or facts or evidence is so the public can eventually make an optimally informed decision on what is best for them. So if the illegal regime is eventually judged to be illegitimate, or incompetent, or self-serving, what is the point, or public benefit, or “fairness” in trying to gloss over that?
What is the meaning of “fair” and “balanced” when it pertains to known crimes that have already occurred, and for which we already know the culprits? Is it fair or balanced to treat known traitors and coup-makers in the same way as a legitimate, accountable Government? Do the ideas of fairness and balance run to pretending that the people did not commit the capital crimes that they clearly committed? Or even if the public is able to forget that, is it fair to then ignore the scores of broken or unfulfilled promises that have fallen by the wayside since? Is it fair to ignore the myriads of unmitigated stuff-ups, or abuses of human rights, or the circa $1billion in lost economic potential since the events of 2006?
Such propositions are about as nonsensical as trying to do a “fair” and “balanced” article on pedophilia – why would you even try to do such a thing, and what possible arguments could the pedophile come up with anyway to try and justify themselves?
Another area in which the regime’s case falls down is that their whole thrust is about trying to prevent the public ever voicing an opinion, or rendering a verdict, that is out of sync with their own. This is the basis of their extravagant and obsessive push, under the guise of “fairness”, to install a regime-approved editorial sycophancy throughout the Fiji media.
But such a monolithic edifice is unnecessary in a democratic media because people will eventually make up their minds. The stories concerned will either then die a natural death, or they will inform the next round of national development and journalistic perspective. If any media organization is considered biased by the public, they can vote with their feet. Ditto if the news organization gets too many stories or facts wrong. They will pay for that in terms of credibility and the marketplace of readership. These are the real journalistic issues, and they can all be settled adequately in the news marketplace without anyone ever having to worry too much about factuality or balance or fairness or the racial composition of the editorial staff
Spurning that mechanism in favor of a government-controlled media authority is merely another illegal regime attempt – like the continuously postponed elections – to avoid any public accountability or verdict whatsoever. This is what the illegal regime is trying to circumvent – the public’s right to “take their business elsewhere” if they don’t like a particular media organization’s editorial policy. The illegal regime has removed a structural market mechanism.
This puts Singh’s quip about parachute journalists not understanding the process (or the state) of development in Fiji, in relevant perspective. Singh’s own regime has interdicted the very means by which the media participates in the development process – both in terms of not permitting the public to be presented with all the facts AND of not allowing any public verdict on those facts to inform the next “round” or stage of development. So who is not understanding what here?
The illegal regime’s ideas about media “fairness” are likewise nonsensical for two reasons. First off is their definition of fair. When we hear the word “fair”, it immediately brings certain noble ideas and values to mind. But when the Fiji’s illegal regime says “fair”, it has no such ideals in mind, because what it means by “fair” is what you and I would normally understand by the words “toadying” or “sycophantic”. Theses are words that, by normal definition, would outright preclude any concept of an independent media anyway.
Furthermore, the illegal regime’s ideal of fairness and balance appears to assume that this exists in some putative mid-ground between the media and the illegal regime. That is rubbish! Journalistic fairness is presenting from the factual mid-ground between two protagonists – say the FLP and the SDL. The media is, as far as possible, not a player in that space at all. So the idea that any fairness and balance could be achieved at all in Fiji when the illegal regime’s critics have no access to the media, and cannot be reported in it, is simply nonsense.
Singh’s quotation of Steve Ratuva is about as meaningless as listening directly to Ratuva himself. Revolutions are not about having revolutions – they are about achieving some aim. If that aim is supposed to serve the people, then the people must get something tangible out of it. The illegal regime can introduce all the policies and speak all the rhetoric it wants. But the only thing that will matter at the end of the day is – did those policies deliver anything worthwhile?
It is now going on three-and-a-half years after the 2006 coup, and illegal regime’s “revolution” and policies basically haven’t delivered anything worthwhile to the people. Certainly nothing that a democratic Government could not also have delivered, anyway! I am not talking about implementing policies here – I am talking about achieving something! Sure the illegal regime has suspended the GCC, removed ethnic record keeping, introduced land reform and stopped the Methodist Church from meeting. But those are just policy measures.
So the question must be asked as to what has all that achieved? So far, nothing! It hasn’t changed the political landscape significantly, it hasn’t solved the land problem, it hasn’t reinvigorated the sugar industry, and it hasn’t improved race relations.
Meanwhile, many proven and time-tested pillars of civilization are being jettisoned by the bucket-load in the illegal regime’s scorched-earth “revolution”. Media independence and freedom, democratic accountability, judicial independence, statutory independence, good governance practices are all being trashed wholesale by the illegal regime without ANY mitigating or compensatory benefit. All gone! What for? What benefit and protection have the people of Fiji received from all that?
Revolution, my foot!
Singh’s quotation of Ganesh Chand is simply a red herring. The Fiji media may have been circumscribed somewhat in the past by “who you know” considerations or petticoat journalism. But such arguments are nonsense in a competitive marketplace, because they would require ALL the journalists covering the story to know, or be in some way beholden, to the subject of the story. In any event, the “who you know” dynamic is a double-edged sword that can also work the other way. Since everyone knows everyone, it can also be even harder to keep secrets. Finally, the inefficiency of the pre-coup media under any of these imperfections is still NOTHING compared to how completely emasculated it is today under the PER (or the forthcoming Media Decree).
After the Chand quote, Singh’s piece largely descends into gibberish where his arguments can’t even really be understood, let alone responded to. One wonders, for instance, what A/NZ funding of alternative journalism courses in Fiji has to do with anything. Or how the media could be blamed for the alleged “malfunction” in Fiji democracy when it has always been the army, or its surrogates, who have conducted coups in Fiji. Singh and his fellow coup-supporters will need to do better than their customary “blame-the-victim-not-the-perpetrator” logic if they want to win hearts and minds in serious forums like university discussions, or at World Press Freedom day.
Finally, Singh needs to get his head out of the sand with regard to what he refers to as the media’s role in “national development issues”. What kind of national development, for instance, does Singh think Fiji has reaped for itself with the circa $1billion loss in potential economic development that we have suffered since (and because of) the 2006-coup?
What kind of national development does he think we are getting from now having over 50% of the Fiji population living below the poverty line (a 20%+ increase from pre-coup figures)? Or how about if taxpayer funds are being needlessly, and stubbornly wasted on subsidizing school bus-fares, that more and more people can no longer afford anyway precisely BECAUSE of the economic recession brought on by the coup-makers themselves. Why would that be in the national development interest for the media NOT to inform the public about it?
In the final analysis, Singh has put together a breathtakingly audacious and mean-spirited collection of circular, irrelevant or illogical arguments to try and fit the square peg of the illegal regime propaganda into the round hole of modern, civilized reality. They deserve only to be read, unmasked, and discarded, just as Amnesty International must have already done before us.-Dr. Mere Tuisalalo Samisoni, elected SDL Member for Lami Open (deposed 2006).