#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: The other side of Fiji’s media decree debate

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The other side of Fiji’s media decree debate

Pacific Scoop:
Opinion – By Thakur Ranjit Singh.

As we approach World Media Freedom Day and the academics, media-wallahs, the saviours of a free press and a coterie of Bainimarama–bashing brigade head for the University of Queensland to mark UNESCO’s WPFD on 2 and 3 May 2010, we hope more light than heat comes out of this gathering. Focusing on Fiji’s controversial media decree in isolation is a sin many are expected to commit; hence this article attempts to provide some remote salvation.

Except for a period of time under Rabuka’s 1987 coups, Fiji media since independence in 1970 have been relatively free until the latest restrictions being brought about by Voreqe Bainimarama.

It would, though be wrong to say that there were no subtle controls under the democratic governments. As somebody who was “punished’ and removed from media by two diametrically opposed former Prime Ministers, perhaps I am well qualified to claim that I must have said or done something right. I was booted by the Mahendra Chaudhry and Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi brigade in 1999 from government-owned Radio Fiji for criticising Labour government for tinkering with the constitution and showing “disrespect” to Fijian chiefs and institutions.

Then in 2001, when Laisenia Qarase inherited political power through Speight’s ethno-nationalism, I was removed from the partly government-owned Daily Post as its publisher under the guise of “strategic improvement”. The real reason was that I as an Indo-Fijian who was an obstacle in the nationalists “befriending” the paper and also my refusal to apologise to the then Lauan Chief Justice Timoci Tuivaga for calling the Savua (Commissioner of Police during the 2000 coup) enquiry a kangaroo court and fraud on the nation.

Tuivaga had headed the enquiry held under camera, which cleared Savua of any wrongdoing. It looks ironical that when Anglo-Saxon and “foreign” media people get removed, it becomes an international media frenzy, yet while a local Indo-Fijian publisher gets removed in the process of ethnic cleansing from control of Fiji media, nobody gets to hear about it.

This brings us to a related, important and perhaps a sensitive issue that has escaped the radar of academics and the international media. That is the racial composition of Fiji newsrooms, and in particular those who are its gatekeepers, those who control the news content and discourse.

Divisive politics

After the unceremonious departure of Vijendra Kumar at the Fiji Times and me from the Daily Post, no Indo-Fijian has been allowed to take charge of any news media in Fiji until after Bainimarama’s 2006 takeover.

For a country which has been racially segregated from British days and has been racially split through divisive racial politics, the effects of the “race card” on the news content and discourse escaped scrutiny. Nevertheless, a number of studies have found sections of Fiji media wanting in balance, fairness and lacking proper journalistic principles.

Research after the Speight’s coup showed that large sections of Fiji media, under the control of indigenous Fijian gatekeepers, abandoned the principles of democracy in favour of ethno-nationalism, chiefly controls and indigenous superiority.

The problem with the western media – like its parachute journalists – is that they tend to view news as an event instead of viewing it as a process of development. Without doubt, the real appreciation of the Fiji situation has to come from those who are rooted in it.

In all the frenzy about the latest media decree, the best sense and appreciation came from a Fijian senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at Auckland University, Dr Steven Ratuva, who saw the happenings in Fiji as a form of revolution. He observed that in the recent past, major changes have been introduced, doing away with almost all the previous governing structures. He saw things taking place in Fiji as a development process over an extended period of time. He spoke about all the old institutions like the Great Council of Chiefs, the Parliament, the Cabinet, the President’s position, the judiciary and the civil service having been “reconfigured.”

Unlike most other academics, Dr Ratuva observed that despite international opposition, there was also support for the administration as in some areas it had done things, made improvements and brought changes that the previous elected governments failed to implement or deliver.

The problem with many speaking about media freedom is their lack of understanding, and perhaps also lack of appreciation about the cultural and environmental factors and the stage of country’s development.

Intricate relationships

As Dr Ganesh Chand, a former minister in Chaudhry’s deposed government and now the probable head of the Fiji National University observed, the smallness of the Pacific where everybody knows everybody hinders operations of a free press. This is coupled with the intricate set of communal relationships. These relationships of blood, custom and language can re-inforce the pressures that can make the very free press that in the west would champion democracy and development, champion anti-democratic forces in the Pacific

The suggested solution to overcome these constraints rests with a conscious press and well-trained journalists. While the Media Decree tries to push for a conscious press through inculcation of social responsibility, the major problem, as identified by the veteran media academic and the specialist in Pacific media, Dr David Robie, is the lack of priority on journalism education.

National development news and the attitude of journalists and media cannot be changed by decrees or laws but are best moulded in classrooms of journalism schools so that there is better engagement by media on national development issues and appreciation of cross-cultural sensitivities in a multiracial country. He called for more support for the country’s journalism schools and training institutions, such as the University of the South Pacific (USP).

What would intrigue many is that NZ and Australian funding agencies are apparently trying to sabotage and frustrate USP’s well established and equipped journalism training facilities by supporting other lesser equipped parallel institutions.

One conference at Victoria University in Melbourne the other week on ‘Oceanic Transformation” observed that Fiji media has failed to educate and inform Fiji people Fiji about democracy, which has resulted in its malfunction.

As that conference did in Melbourne, it is hoped the one in Brisbane also seeks to address the lack of understanding about the Pacific by Australians (and I add New Zealanders) who seem to learn less and less from their educational institutions and media about the Pacific.

In reporting on a coup in Thailand, one academic, Kalinga Seneviratne told how Thaksin, the then Prime Minister and the richest man in Thailand, manipulated democracy to create a one man rule.

Marginalised people

A similar story about Fiji failed to reach its own mainstream media as well as those in New Zealand and Australia when Bainimarama carried the overthrow of Qarase in a similar fashion where the powerful chiefs, the dominant Methodist Church, rich Gujarati Indian business community and the government machinery manipulated and marginalised half Fiji’s population under the guise of democracy through divisive race-based policies.

This author has been critical of so-called veteran journalists on Pacific who, with enormous power of their mainstream media monopoly organisations, failed to report on the other side of Fiji that would have reflected on development journalism with some principles of social responsibility spiced in.

Those journalists who today stand banned from Fiji for one reason or another need to reflect whether they have let their profession down by not telling the real or the other side of the “ Oceania” story that may have enlightened their governments to require and call for genuine democracy and governance rather than letting it operate as a sham of democracy.

Instead of emitting vindictive venom against what is happening in Fiji and making things worse for democracy and the people of Fiji, they need to appreciate historical perspectives and view things grounded in proper background information. And more often than not, such stories are best told by those who are grounded in Fiji.

Indeed, when journalists and academics meet in Brisbane to mark World Press Freedom Day, I hope there is greater debate on some form of development journalism with social responsibility of media in developing economies, rife with intercultural and racial issues with journalists lacking in proper media training.

Indeed, Bainimarama told local radio station Tarana that he recognised the ability of the media to shape public perception. What his government was asking through the media decree was for the media to take greater responsibility and ownership in shaping the new modern Fiji and to help lay a foundation that promoted equality and fairness and a higher degree of ethics and moral principles.

What is wrong with seeking for social responsibility? While I agree that this cause is justified, the means, though are warped but I feel open to diplomatic and genuine negotiations, as the decree is still in its draft form.

Shooting pellets and stink-bombs of academic and first world media rhetoric at Bainimarama would be ineffective, as he appears to have developed a thick skin, impervious to international grandstanding.

Who knows, as with most other happenings on ground and with its lack of analytical reasoning and investigation on Fiji, international media may even be unaware of that as well!

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a postgraduate media student at Auckland University of Technology, a political commentator and a former “deposed” publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post newspaper.

27 comments:

  1. Just once I would like to see a Thakur Singh story without the words "race & British".

    My suggestion is that he reads Ratu Mara's 'Tuimacilai' - then get back and explain his forefathers actions - quotes & aspirations regarding the iTaukei?

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  2. God, help us from this moron. I thought he had left the scene. A shameless coup apologist still griping over losing his job at the Daily Post. That explains his hatred for Qarase and his support for the 2006 coup. He used to cowardly hide behind his column Liu Muri writing filth in the Post, without identifying hismelf. He even went to Fiji to get a job in post-coup 2006. Sorry, Vijendra Kumar was a lackey of Ratu Mara who turned a blind eye to the plight of Indo-Fijians - in 1987 Mara abandoned Kumar and hastily joined the regime, first as acting PM and later as President. The Fiji press was one of the most vibrant until the 2006 coup, irrespctive of whether the editors were Fijians. So stop mouthing your crap, Ranjit Singh - Thakur!!!!

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  3. Ranjit you were booted out for incompetence and blatant bias while at the Daily Post, so stop groaning like a spoilt baby. Go back to Fiji and ask for a job with your pet regime boys

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  4. "The problem with many speaking about media freedom is their lack of understanding, and perhaps also lack of appreciation about the cultural and environmental factors and the stage of country’s development."

    It is not enough to hide behind the excuses "fiji is different", "fiji has a different culture", "fiji is third world" and then claim that the military may have struck upon a good idea here.

    So what do the people grounded in Fiji have to say? Oh yes, I forgot, they are not allowed to say anything because the military will throw them in prison.

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  5. plenty of democracies have laws and regulations about what can and can't be reported or how they are to be reported they also have professional codes of thics etc, these does not mean that when any illegal government comes to power or a deomcratically elected govenrment can arbitrarily boot out reporters or publishers for their views or reporting styles.( or threatend with violence intimidation firebombs, arson, vandalism etc ) Which appears to be the modus operandi of this treasonaous military government.

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  6. After reading this illogical, irrelevant rambling missive, I can fully understand why this twit is a 'former' publisher.

    This 'article' goes off on so many tangents, it would be at home in a maths II class.

    Nowhere does this person acknowledge the criminality of bananasinpyjamas and its junta.

    Nowhere does this person mention the draconian nature of hairyarse's 'media' decree.

    The venom that the 'author' spits at the participants of a Brisbane conference suggests that this ex-publisher is peeved because he wasn't invited.

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  7. wow Thakur,I was just getting to like your writing in this article and then ....yes..you blew it!! You began to use the 'race card' politics.

    Ok to give you benefit of the doubt, you have to say your piece & well done. My gripes are why have a subtle attack on the Commonwealth'? What have they got to do with your being removed from office of a reknown media?

    The fact of the matter is, Fiji is littered with opportunists. Jone blo-it-all comes along & executes a coup with his inner circle [those that sponsored him...you know, I know, you know!!]. Bainimarama & Khaiyyum et al are no different to this typical coup-ism mania in Fiji. They are just like the rest of them. You happened to be just an obstacle at the time you got thrown out.

    So in essence, how many that are being booted now will echo the same story as you down the line...I rest my case.

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  8. Looks like Thakur Sigh and friends are making the very same mistake in NZ he & his Indian bretheren made in Viti.

    When it suits them (him) their dead set racist - already organising (isolating) Indian ghetto's within his 'new' adopted country.

    First Indians settled in Viti in
    1879 - now 2010 and their (he)are still identified as an Indians.
    Go figure? And he - of all people -still continually accuse others of racism?

    Singh - forgot Viti - forget India - concentrate and assimalate into your new culture - or else go back to where you originated - save everyone a lot of heartache.

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  9. I find it hard to differenciate! Whether this piece by TRS was a true insight on media freedom or was it a piece to promote himself! This is what he has been doing. He got kicked out because he could do his job properly.

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  10. Thakur Ranjit Singh’s self-admitted “…refusal to apologise to … Chief Justice Timoci Tuivaga for calling the Savua enquiry a kangaroo court and fraud on the nation…” should leave him thanking his lucky stars that he was only removed from being publisher of the Daily Post.

    Had he made such a statement in today’s environment, he would have found himself with a 2 year suspended jail sentence and a $100,000 fine to pay off.

    He should also realise that if he were to return to his old position sometime in the near future and make a similar statement, he would find himself in jail for up to 5 years and be $500,000 poorer.

    Under those circumstances, I somehow doubt we will see him return to Fiji - despite all his posturing.

    As far as his bleating about the lack of concern shown by the western media over his removal – tough. He evidently wasn’t considered important enough to merit a story. Anyway, since he reduces most things to a racial context what’s all this sudden interest in the western media about? Surely he’d be more concerned about what the Indian and other Asian media had to say about it.

    Nothing? Oh, tut – you don’t say?

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  11. Ranjit....

    Re "....a number of studies have found sections of Fiji media wanting in balance, fairness and lacking proper journalistic principles":

    This is the way of the world, not just Fiji and not just because the good jobs are taken by indigenous Fijians. Such sins have been committed in the best of places, Britain, US, Australia and NZ.

    Re ..."ironical that when Anglo-Saxon and “foreign” media people get removed, it becomes an international media frenzy, yet while a local Indo-Fijian publisher gets removed in the process of ethnic cleansing from control of Fiji media, nobody gets to hear about it."

    Also, the way of the world .... and having mates in the right places. You obviously didn't have any. Hence your enthusiasm for Bainimarama govt who has put the world to rights for you, huh? But now everyone is being wronged - is that okay?

    Re ..."These relationships of blood, custom and language can re-inforce the pressures that can make the very free press that in the west would champion democracy and development, champion anti-democratic forces in the Pacific".

    Some truth, the smallness of the Pacific means the eight degrees of separation is more likely to be two - and therefore a blight on free press. Particularly telling in New Zealand, where tagata whenua and Pasifika journalists have sometimes struggled to serve one-eyed multicultural European news hierarchy and stay in with community.

    I've had a lot of admiration for Fiji's very vibrant and gung ho media, espeically after the coups. Largely untrained and young, but Fiji journos were cracking some good stories. With things being the way they were, it's easy to see how coverage became bipartisan.

    Training and support essential to developing good, strong fair journalists. The call for fairer reporting and greater responsibility seems reasonable enough but it isn't because it's coming from an illegal government that has failed to show transparency and fairness themselves.

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  12. @ P'fika Observer.

    You talk the same divisive rubbish as Singh - ever considered that its not the European slant? But your own warped Indian perspective on stories?
    Get over it Bro - so disatisfied with western (NZ) media and culture - go back to India - take Singhs of this world with you?

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  13. I agree with most of the comments above but with due respect to Ranjit, some of what he is saying may be true. But as others have commented above, this does not give the interim government an excuse to bring in a Media Decree. The interim government could have brought in a fine or penalty system for the media, where reporters would get demerit points, like in a licence, if their stories were one sided and not balanced. But then we know that the interim gov't's view of 'balanced stories' is warped anyway, with it sending censors to newsrooms and not allowing stories like power cuts and water cuts to be published because it shows the regime in a bad light. So how would they have judged which stories are deemed one-sided? The penalty points system wouldn't work under this ....hmm back to square one

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  14. @ Anon 5:41pm

    What are you talking about? I think you may want to re-read what P'fika Observer actually wrote - he is only making that point that there is an element of pluralism in NZ media - nothing more than that.

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  15. The only way we will be able to find one what the regime considered 'balanced' story is the editors and reporters of all the media outlets to keepp copies of their stories that the censors had not approved in their zeal to protect the reputation of the illegal regime. As for Ranjit Singh, let the mad dog bark from New Zealand. He is a Mr Nobody in Fiji, not even in the yes of the regime with whom he is trying to curry roti favour - he is, afterall, jobless and unemployable, given his twisted state of mind

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  16. This man is a joke. He wrote letters to Hector Hatch his former boss at Carpenters when he was Minister in the Interim Government) begging to be appointed to the Boards of Government Commercial Companies and Commercial Statutory Authorities.

    He also asked to be appointed to various managerial positions that he had applied to on Government companies like AFL, FBCL etc.

    The Minister was advised that this was Corruption and he should be reported to the relevant authorities.

    Maybe FICAC would like to investigate this - He is making a lot of noise supporting the Military Junta in the hope that his corrupt activities are not exposed.

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  17. Very enlightning article of Cafe Pacific 'Reflections of a Fiji Times old hand'.

    Well worth a read - offers another perspective.

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  18. TRS is nothing but a 'has been' who is trying to cast a better image of himself and support the military regime in the hope that they will one day give him a job!

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  19. What a load of total 'I am a victim' mongoose coup supporting crap!

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  20. This guy is nuts...

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  21. It would seem that Mr Ranjit doesn't seem to have a big following in Fiji, or is it respect.

    In blogs on this page I've seen Indians described (by your readers/followers) as arrogant and selfish etc etc.

    That's a human trait right across the globe but I can see some of that in the 'deposed' publisher of the Daily Post. Let us note that his support of the coup is typical of where some people are, especially Indo-Fijians.

    He is entitled to his outlook on the world shaped obviously by the hurts he's endured, unfortunate because until everyone is for everyone opportunists (as one of your readers ...Fiji Truth (Na Dina) put it so well) will keep finding it easy to hold the country to ransom.

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  22. His new name is THOKAR RANJIT SINGH NOT THAKUR-

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  23. I notice that Thakur has used the name Liu Muri in the past. Is this the same Liu Muri who has been regularly posting on this blog? That would explain!

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  24. Yes Liu Muri is Thakur Ranjit Singh, who is also commenting on his own stories on other blogs like Croz Walsh and Cafe Pacific, lol. Talk about no life ...oh and this is not corruption ....the very thing he is criticisng the whole world but himself about!

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  25. Yeh someone is right , naming THOKAR RANJIT SINGH , I would add further his name should be THOKAR RANCHOD(means coward who fled from the war field oe playground to save his life)BILLI (cat).If he is so concern about Baini IG , he should return and work for them,

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  26. Ranjit Singh was terminated from the Daily Post becasue he could not do his job. If he had been doing his job and the paper made money, the shareholders would have kept him on.It was as simple as that!!!

    Ranjit...its time you grew up and move on. All of us have moved on.

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  27. Ranjit is being honest and his viewpoint reflects that of people who felt ill-served by earlier administrations. Sadly, there are enough of them to keep this illegal government feeling their support is wider than it actually is.

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