Pacific Beat, Radio Australia: New Zealand's writers organisation says its disappointed there hasn't been more of an outcry in the country about what's happening in Fiji. Society of Authors President Tony Simpson says some of their colleagues in the industry and the government are not standing up for media freedom in Fiji. He says the New Zealand government's silence is disgraceful, and authors would have expected stronger resistance to government censorship from journalists as well. Mr Simpson tells Bruce Hill he's not sure why such a crackdown on free speech in Fiji has occurred with so little concern expressed in New Zealand.
SIMPSON: Well I have to say that it does come as a surprise to me that more people have not spoken up. Obviously, the people, like the Society of Authors in New Zealand are an obvious group of people to do so, because a lot of our members double as journalists as well, so they understand very well what the issues are all about. But yes, in the past, we have had quite a good record and so has Australia about speaking up. I just wonder whether or not our new government is or relatively new government is having an affect on that, because they seem a lot keener on reaching some sort of rapprochement with the Fiji regime than their predecessors and I just wonder if it's a sort of let's keep quiet and work behind the scenes sort of approach, although I don't see that being particularly effective and I think when something like this happens, then you really have an obligation to speak out.
HILL: If something like what's happening in Fiji was happening in New Zealand, what would the response be from people there?
SIMPSON: Well, of course, people would be outraged. They would say the arguments are so obvious, they hardly need restated, but freedom of expression is absolute bed rocked to any free society. If you cannot speak and criticise, particularly governments, then you cease to live in a free society really.
HILL: But there would be people that would argue that does not take into account aspects of culture, which are more important and some people would argue that these rights are not universal rights, they are Western rights and not culturally appropriate in the Pacific?
SIMPSON: Well, the strange thing about that is that many people who are not describable in those terms as Western, nevertheless seem to think that running a democratic free society is a the way they would really like to live and I always say to people who say those sorts of things, well why don't you go and ask the people what they want and they will soon tell you whether they want to live in a Western-style democracy or not. And if you want to lay money on it, I will take a bet that they will want to live in a Western-style democracy.
HILL: Well, what's the way around this then? I mean just constantly criticising or as a lot of politicians call it using megaphone diplomacy, just keeps peoples backs up. Is there anything positive that the Society of Authors and writers and journalists in places like Australia then can do?
SIMPSON: Well, they are a bit out of our reach and we don't command a lot of battalions of troops, so we're not gonna go and invade anybody. But I think that you simply do have to keep speaking up, not in a strident way, you just have to keep repeating the message. Look, these people are doing x, y and z and it is undesirable for the following reasons. I mean what it is it's plain censorship and censorship of the media is the device of dictators everywhere and we have to just go on politely pointing out that these people are dictators and we need to do it in a concerted manner and with as many voices as possible. I mean I am deeply disappointed in the groups that have failed to speak up about this. You would think that more people would speak up. We in the Society of Authors regard ourselves as a fairly small voice in this, but we've made our views known. The New Zealand Government could be speaking up a lot more.
HILL: The New Zealand Government is in a lot of trouble with the Fiji Government for speaking up as much as it already has?
SIMPSON: Well indeed, but I don't condemn them for that, that is to say the New Zealand Government. In fact I applaud them for it and of course they are going to be in trouble with the Fiji Government, because the Fiji Government is not going to like that. No dictator or authoritarian government that rules by decree ever likes people pointing out to them what they are doing. I mean there are awful things going on in Fiji. I mean there are people getting beaten up and locked in prison and bullied and their views are about to be severely suppressed and the people of Fiji themselves have not got any more, much the sources of information about what's going on in their own society and from now on, they are going to have even less available to them.