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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gandhi and lessons for Fiji: press freedom sacrosanct

By VICTOR LAL
The final in a three-part series on Mahatma Gandhi and Liberty of the Press: Lesson for Fiji

In a Diwali message in November 1917, to the Gujarati daily of Bombay, The Hindustan, Mahatma Gandhi said: “What is the duty of newspapers when laws like the Seditious Writings Act and Defence of India Act are in force? We often find our papers guilty of equivocation. Some have preferred this method into a science. But, in my opinion, this harms the country. This changes the form of language: instead of being a medium for the expression of one’s thoughts, it becomes a mask for concealing them. I am convinced that this is not the way to develop strength in the people.

"The people, both collectively and individually, must cultivate the habit of speaking only what is in their minds. Newspapers are a good means of such education, for those who would evade these laws had better not bring out a paper at all: the other course is to ignore the laws in question and state one’s real views fearlessly but respectfully and bear the consequences. Mr Justice Stephen has said somewhere that a man who has no reason in his heart can speak no reason. If it is there in the heart, one should speak it out. If one does not have the courage for this, one should stop publishing a newspaper. This is in the best interest of all.”

During the war, 1914-1918, Indian press, suffered heavily at Government hands. After the war discontent was rampant in India. Gandhi who came to India in 1915 was one of the discontented and disillusioned; he had relied on British justice and had helped the war efforts. The extremists in the Congress wanted some sort of action against the Government. While editing the Indian Opinion  Gandhi had not any occasion to discuss, participate or uphold freedom of expression or liberty of the press in South Africa.

But in India the situation was different. Here the freedom of expression and the liberty of the press were being suppressed by Government action. Gandhi has not yet associated himself directly with the Navajivan and the Young India. As editor, he and others had not yet faced, as others did, the direct assault of censorship and other associated evils. Nationalist leaders who had their own papers to express views were, on the other hand, debarred from freely commenting on political matters. They felt aggrieved but were helpless before the might of the British Government. Gokhale, the champion of the liberty of press, died in 1915. Who was to stand up against various Government gagging orders?

Thus from political exigency Gandhi emerged as the champion for the freedom of expression and for the liberty of the press. The moment the Rowlatt Committee’s recommendations came to be known, Gandhi drafted a pledge which was signed by many important people. It said: “Being conscientiously of opinion that the Bills known as the Indian Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill No. 1 of 1919, and Criminal Law (emergency Power) Bill No 11 of 1919 are unjust, subversive of the principles of liberty and justice and destruction of elementary rights of individuals on which they safety of the community as a whole and the State itself is based, we solemnly affirm that in the event of these Bills becoming law and until they are withdrawn, we solemnly affirm that in the event of these Bills becoming law and until they are withdrawn, we shall refuse civilly to obey these laws and such other laws as a committee, to be hereafter appointed, many think fit, and we further affirm that in this struggle, we will faithfully follow truth and refrain from violence to life, person or property.”

The ‘Satyagraha’ pledge was signed and it was agreed that private literature should be sold openly and that the registration of newspapers could be civility disobeyed. In the list of the prohibited literature were Gandhi’s ‘Hind Swaraj’ and ‘Sarvodya’. These were sold openly and in defiance of the law: “Gandhi and Mrs Naidu went out in cars to sell the books. All the copies were soon sold out. People willingly paid more than the published price of the book which was four annas. As high as Rs 50 were paid to Gandhi for one copy. The interesting purchasers were told that they were liable to be arrested and imprisoned for possessing literature. Bu they had shed all fear of jail going. The proceeds of the sale were utilised for furthering the civil disobedience campaign.”

Mention has been made about the unregistered weekly – the Satyagraha – edited by Gandhi. This was again in defiance of the law which required registration of newspapers. In the first issue, dated 7 April 1919, Gandhi wrote editorially: “A ‘Satyagrahi’ for whom punishments provided by law have lost all terror can give only in an unregistered newspaper his thoughts and opinion unhampered by any other consideration than that of his own conscience. His newspaper, therefore, if otherwise well edited, can become a most powerful vehicle for transmitting pure ideas in a concise manner.” The Government might confiscate all such newspapers. Gandhi advised workers to copy out extracts for readers. To him, press freedom was sacrosanct.
        
The freedom of the press gives us the freedom to think for ourselves and form our own opinions.

Rumoured buyer scotches talk fuelling speculation about just who will buy Fiji's oldest newspaper

The fate of the Fiji Times remains unknown as one potential buyer is eliminated and the illegal government appears twitchy over the possibility of the country's oldest paper actually closing.

The businessman Mahendra Patel, of Motibhai & Co Limited,  has laughed off rumours his company wants to lead a buyout of Fiji Times' shares.

According to the Fiji Sun, Patel said the rumour was news to the company. "We did not even know that Fiji Times was on sale. We are not interested and there have been no negotiations whatsoever.”

It was thought the illegal government had someone in mind when it produced its media decree, with the controversial provision that foreign ownership of news organisations in Fiji be restricted to just ten per cent.

With the Fiji Times being owned by the Australian Murdoch corporate, News Ltd, the company is supposed to sell once the decree is introduced.

No date has been given for the actual introduction of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 but it's believed to be imminent.

But who has the capital and the interest (especially, in these conditions) in buying the paper is the $64,000 thousand dollar question and is fuelling talk the illegal government's plans have backfired.

The junta's attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has rushed to say the Fiji Times Limited doesn't need to close down its operations, saying the Fiji Times can stay but has to sell 90 percent of its shares.

The back pedalling suggests the big plan may be unravelling.

News Ltd has been silent, too, which has been taken by some to mean it's ready to turn the printers off.

Picture: File pic of a Fiji Times front page and Sayed-Khaiyum.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Meridian Agency recruiter told to stop trawling for workers in Fiji

Fiji authorities have moved to stop a Fiji national from recruiting locals to work in the Middle East, in places like Iraq and Kuwait.

Several complaints have been made against Timoci Lolohea from Meridian Services Agency, some going back to 2005.

Fiji's Employment Relations Tribunal has ordered Lolohea to stop recruiting immediately and to also quit  placing advertisements and offering employment contracts for, or on behalf of employers, for work outside Fiji.

Lolohea (right) has been the subject of earlier complaints. In 2005, men who returned from security jobs in Kuwait told of the poor conditions they worked under, after being recruited by Meridian Services Agency.

The men complained they had been misled and that their working conditions (including lack of medical treatment because they didn't have medical insurance) were well below what they had been promised.-Source FijiVillage and Others. Picture FijiVillage.

IMF statement after its two-week visit

Coverage of the end of the two-week visit by the IMF delegation has been a bit mixed.
Jonathan Dunn's delegation issued its statement yesterday and some of today's headlines had different takes on the success of the visit.

The Fiji Live headline was 'Sustainable policies needed: IMF'.
The Fiji Sun headline was: 'We'll stand by Fiji, International Monetary Fund says'.

Below is the relevant part of the IMF statement for you to make your own conclusions:

“The authorities and the mission agreed that the policies should be set so as to put Fiji on the path to sustainable and broad-based growth. We will continue to discuss policy measures required to ensure fiscal sustainability and specific structural reforms to underpin Fiji’s medium-term growth while protecting the vulnerable. We welcome the authorities’ intention to approach donors for support for key structural reforms of public enterprises and the civil service.

“The mission greatly appreciated the authorities’ openness and the frank discussions of the economic challenges faced by Fiji. The IMF looks forward to the possibility of making further progress toward these ends in the coming months that would ensure external stability and help catalyze donor support for Fiji’s reform efforts.”

Kiwi writers group slams NZ govt's silence on media decree

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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Govt aid dashed as report says half a million Fijians living below poverty line

It was a grim looking Voreqe Bainimarama who conducted a post-Cyclone Tomas tour of the island of Ovalau and the villages of Tokou, Bureta, Lovoni, Rukuruku, and Levuka to deliver the mesage that his illegal government will no longer offer handouts to fund church buildings and village halls.

Speaking to Levuka communities, he said: “We urge members of the public to work hard. Stop relying on handouts. This Government will only see that our roads, water, education and other developments are done to move us forward.”

The message is evidence that Fiji is struggling and comes as the world is told by Fiji's Council of Social Services (FCOSS) that about half a million people are now living below the poverty line, far more than official figures have suggested.

The latest governmental survey on income and expenditure is yet to be released publicly, but it reportedly indicates 45% of the population - 360,000 people - are struggling.

TV One News is today quoting FCOSS director Hassan Khan as saying that at least 60% of Fijians were poverty stricken, their numbers swollen by natural disaster and soaring prices.

"There (are) official figures that (say) 20% of people are in the higher-income bracket, and (another) 20% are in the middle-income," Khan said on Thursday from his office in Suva.

"So, in the lower income bracket, under $FJ15,000, ($NZ10,800) - which is the poverty line of the government - you have the rest of the people."

The notional poverty level of 45% was revealed at a workshop on Tuesday and reported by the Fiji Times.

The survey research, conducted by the Poverty Eradication Unit of the prime minister's office in 2008 and 2009, was already outdated, he said.

The category-four Cyclone Tomas, which thrashed Fiji last month, put "a lot of people in very risky and vulnerable areas" and poverty numbers had also been boosted by the rising cost of living, he said.

"These are things that impact on our people severely," he said.

In a bid to improve living conditions, Fiji's government dedicated $FJD1.5 billion ($NZ10.9 million) to poverty eradication programs between 2000 and 2008.

"But how much has been used? We don't have any figure or any report on that," Khan said.

He said plans for a thorough evaluation of poverty had been slated for the past four years, but the Fijian government had told FCOSS "figures are not ready".

"So you wait and wait," Khan said.

Lieutenant Colonel Pio Tikoduadua, the permanent secretary for Fiji's self-appointed prime minister, admitted it was "difficult ... to measure the impact of all this assistance that the government is providing to the people".

He told the workshop the government aimed to have only 15% of the nation living in poverty by 2020.-TVOne News and Fiji Government Online

Smith-Johns named in permanent secretary role

Fiji's new Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Sharon Smith-Johns, has given her first interview saying she welcomes the challenge that will come with the position.

She told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation a short time ago that she expects to be kept on her toes. “Well in any new position its always a challenge and there’s a lot to learn - obviously coming from the private sector moving into government areas in particular - there is a steep learning curve. I am excited about the challenge and by the end of next week I will be in a much better position to be able to comment further.”

The former CEO of Connect Fiji was head hunted by the junta and told FBC News that the permanent secretary position will soon be advertised. “The position I am actually going into is an acting position so the position will be advertised and the proper transparencies followed. I am only in there in an acting role.”

The Former Information Permanent Secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Leweni, ihas been moved to the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources.-FBC

Samoan PM tells Bainimarama to stick to planting cassava

Fiji and Samoa's leaders are going head to head again, this time over the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and which country has a claim to it.

Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi fired the first salvo two weeks ago, when he said Fiji’s military government had come up with the Immunity Decree to avoid prosecution and was surely an admission of guilt.

Tuilaepa also mocked Voreqe Bainimarama, saying he was a little dictator and he "wouldn't be surprised if his next decree is to change the Fiji national anthem."

His comments were widely supported but scoffed at by the junta leader, who this week retorted with the claim that Tuilaepa had lost his mind, and that the Samoan PM was "desperate and trying to whip up a regional outcry, so that the Pacific Forum secretariat could be moved from Suva to Apia."

Bainimarama told the Fiji Broadcasting Corproation that he didn't think anyone from the Forum Secretariat would want to relocate to Samoa, because Fiji was the more modern country out of the two.

But Tuilaepa has now suggested Fiji's self-appointed leader "keeps quiet" and learn from the valuable lessons he is imparting “free of charge”.

In a second interview with Tupuola Terry Tavita printed today on Pacific Scoop, Tuilaepa says: "You know, calling the Commodore a Prime Minister is like calling a skinny dog a vicious lion, a scrawny chicken a soaring eagle.”

He was equally scathing of Bainimarama's comments about the Forum Secretariat, saying: “Best he sticks to planting cassava and leave Forum issues to bonafide elected leaders. He has neither say nor business with neither the Forum nor its secretariat.”

Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum last year, three years after Bainimarama ousted the elected government of Laisenia Qarase.

In reply to Bainimarama's claim he was angling to secure the Forum Secretariat for Samoa, Tuilaepa says such a decision is not his to make but that of the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum.

“Whether it gets relocated to Samoa, Papua (New Guinea), Tonga, Vanuatu or even Bikini Atoll is neither Bani’s nor those working at the Secretariat’s decision to make. And if it (Secretariat) does relocate, well Bani only has himself to blame for it. He is the root cause of all these problems.”

But Tuilaepa says it's highly unlikely the Secretariat would want to operate “under the thumb” of an unelected military regime. “Especially a regime that has done away with the rule of law, democratic government, an independent judiciary and suppression of the media and freedom of speech. It’s against the exact fundamental principles the Forum was founded on.”

Tuilaepa says he doesn't know how Bainimarama came to make the suggestion. He said: "It appears that he is scared that it’ll be relocated to Samoa? Well, thank you very much Mr Bainimarama for your vote of confidence in us. But, frankly, we don’t need your endorsement.”-Sources Tupuola Terry Tavita's story on Pacific Scoop and the FBC story on Bainimarama.

Dumped Connect Fiji CEO set to return

The former CEO of Connect Fiji who had her position terminated last year amid claims of poor performance, is about to resurface in a plum role.

Sharon Smith-Johns is about to be named the new Permanent Secretary for Fiji’s Ministry of Information, according to the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

The flame haired expatriate replaces Neumi Leweni, who is now the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Lands.

Smith-John's new role is a very visible and critical one, and will see her tackle some major issues, especially with the advent of the controversial media decree.

She is considered to be a coup supporter but it didn't save her from being dumped by the military regime last year from Connect, an internet provider and a subsidiary of Telecom Fiji Ltd (TFL).

Coupfourpointfive reported at the time (October 2009) that Smith-Johns was given the flick along with TFL's General Manager Marketing, Ian Lyons because the junta was bringing in locals to replace them.

Sources said at the time that Smith-Johns had gone to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks to meet with senior military officers in a bid to get her termination rescinded.

Other blogs made a meal of her departure, saying she was a '"leech" who'd been undeserving of the role of CEO for Connect Fiji.

FBC News says Smith-Johns has refused to comment until the appointment is official.

Smith-Johns tipped to replace Leweni

The former Connect Fiji CEO, Sharon Smith-Johns, is being tipped to replace Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni, who is now the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Lands.

Smith-Johns' appointment as Permanent Secretary for Fiji’s Ministry of Information is being reported by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

Smith is currently the chair for the Fiji Audio Visual Commission and told FBC News this morning she will only be able to comment once the appointment has been made official by government.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Prayers for beleagured Methodist Church leaders

"They have day while we have night and night during our day". So said the prayer Methodist congregations in Britain and Ireland assembled in February this year, in support of their brothers and sisters in Fiji.

Unfortunately, prayers have failed to deliver miracles so the island brethren continue to practice their faith in conditions their European counterparts would've only experienced in the Dark Ages.

Since February, the illegal government of Voreqe Bainimarama has sought to destroy Fiji's biggest Church by discrediting its political opinions and its leaders, as it rules that members can't gather, even for their AGM, until 2014.

At last month's much-vaunted meeting, the junta cleverly divided the ranks by saying the government had nothing against the Church and that its only concern were the trouble makers in its midst.

Weakened by fear, several ministers rushed to cast church president, Reverend Ame Tugaue, and church secretary, Reverend Tuikilakila, to the Lion's and in less than a day had suggested they step down.

Tugaue and Tuikilakila have stood their ground so it was not surprising that in court today, the junta threw another charge on top of the one alleging they contravened the Public Emergency Regulations.

Originally accused with 25 other church ministers, just Tugaue and Tuikilakila and three others were given the additional charge today.

Fiji's illegal government has whinged about the failure of its critics to appreciate its fine ideals to 'clean up' Fiji, its decisions supposedly pure and transparent. But only a fool would believe today's court action was genuine.

The junta's mouthpiece, Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi, spoke of Tugaue and Tuikilakila to the Fiji Sun today, saying it was up to the Church to sort out of the future of the two officials. In doing so, he reiterated that the restrictions that have been placed on the Church would not be relaxed. “Government’s position has not changed as stated by the PM in our last meeting with the Methodist Church ... they owe it to their members to ensure that their spiritual well-being is taken care of.”

The 'well-being' Neumi speaks of was noted in the February prayer penned by the Methodist congregations of Britain and Ireland: "May all the people of Fiji work together for good, The Methodist Church, the Government, the Hindus, the Christians ... Till justice rolls like the waters of the ocean."

One shares that hope for Fiji but one also hopes it wises up and stops turning the other cheek.

Picture: Some of the ministers in court today. Fiji Village photo.

Methodist leaders given additional charge

The Fiji Broadcasting is reporting that seven of the 27 Methodist church Ministers who appeared in a Fiji court today for contravening the Public Emergency Regulations were given an additional charge.

The Methodist church President Reverend Ame Tugaue, General Secretary Tuikilakila Waqairatu and 5 others are now facing another charge of Conspiracy to Disobey a Lawful Order by the Prime Minister and Military Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The 7 men are alleged to have disobeyed a directive given during a meeting with Bainimarama, who had ordered that they not to hold a Methodist church conference in 2009.

However, between the 12th and 22nd of July 2009 the men allegedly went to the Marama Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa in Lomanikoro, Rewa to discuss the Commander’s decision on the conference.

The DPP says this was in breach of the Public Emergency Regulation where they were not supposed to meet or hold any meeting.

Defence lawyer Aseri Vakaloloma said they needed more time to respond to the additional charge apart from the three other charges which all the 27 accused have pleaded not guilty to.-FBC

Somare offers tacit support to Bainimarama

Wellington, April 20: The Papua New Guinean Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, offered self-appointed Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama some tacit support today.

Sir Michael was in Wellington as part of his four-day trip to New Zealand. He was officially welcomed to Parliament in a formal ceremony and then went into bilateral discussions with Prime Minister John Key.

When asked by reporters what he thought of the recent media crackdown in Fiji, Sir Michael said it could be taken in two different ways.

"We hope there is always understanding, for any developing country, particularly in the small island states like Fiji... sometimes you know there must be understanding by media, try to really interpret what the real thinking in the minds of island people are and maybe it's looking at things in a different way than you in the west look at it."

The media should consider people's way of living, he said.

"I'm talking about understanding, you've got to understand the Pacific people, their motives and their way of thinking, their characteristics and try and translate and report on what they believe."

He was quick to qualify his statement by saying he hoped Cmdre Bainimarama would change his mind and bring forward elections in Fiji.

"He's made up his mind, he's going on 2014. "I'm hoping that the time will come when he'll come good and tell us when the elections are going to be held," Sir Michael said.

While he was not sympathetic with Cmdre Bainimarama there needed to be understanding of him and the Pacific people, he said.

"Not so much I'm sympathetic but I think he needs for us to understand him.

"I think we need to get him to know that it's important for the majority of people and as far as democracy is concerned in our countries (that elections be held)."

Sir Michael said if Cmdre Bainimarama wanted to "come back into the fold" with the Pacific Islands Forum and Commonwealth, both of which Fiji has been suspended from, he would need to do some "serious thinking".

He thanked Mr Key for inviting him and for New Zealand's continued support.

His visit confirmed the "well-established relationship" between the two countries.

PNG was looking to phase out aid over five years and to focus on more "technical support" and proceeds from domestic coffee, cocoa and coconut industries, he said.

Mr Key said they had discussed the economic situation in PNG, the large LNG find there and progress and remaining challenges in Fiji.

"We talked about the desire New Zealand has to see democracy restored to Fiji, hopefully sooner than 2014."

Cmdre Bainimarama toppled Fiji's elected government in a December 2006 coup and has since abrogated the constitution and cracked down on media freedom. NZPA and the National Business Review.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Accuracy of unnamed staffer in 'Old Hand' Fiji Times story challenged

A former journalist and a former newspaper publisher have defended the Fiji Times, from the claims of the unnamed staffer who detailed the shortcomings of the daily paper in the Cafe Pacific blog.

Russell Hunter, a fomer publisher and chief executive of the Fiji Sun, asks who the former worker is, saying the person who gave Cafe Pacific the information could not have worked at the Fiji Times when he was there:

"I wonder who Cafe Pacific might be? He or she wasn't at the Fiji Times between 1997 and 2003 when there was a comprehensive in-house training programme for reporters, subs and middle managers. I should know I ran it. There was also and presumably still is a salary scale. And no the editor wasn't and isn't a cousin of Qarase, that anonymous commentator was thinking of the Daily Post."

Former journalist Charlie Charteris has aslo challenged the comments of the unnamed staffer, saying: "The more I read this the angrier I get angry."

Charteris, who was a TV presenter in Fiji and a freelance journalist in Hong Kong before becoming a rugby official, says when the article was first posted by Cafe Pacific the unnamed Old Hand who makes these fairly sweeping and unsubstantiated allegations, let slip on some basic facts.

"The last decent editor was referred to as Vijay Kumar - not Vijendra Kumar. I pointed this out to Cafe Pacific in a post and said this was such a basic error of fact it called into question everything else they had to say (and, because the author enjoys the benefit of anonymously firing off at the Fiji Times, about the only thing in the article that is capable of being fact-checked).

"To me, calling Mr Kumar, Vijay is as egregiously wrong as referring to Sir Larry Usher or Steve Ritova. Cafe Pacific have now corrected the Old Hand's copy but, crucially in terms of the piece's credibility, without pointing out the original mistake. How can they do this when the piece is presented as a direct quote from the Old Hand?"

Charteris says while he is no longer a journalist he has worked in newsrooms in many parts of the world, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

"And I have never come across a Happy Newsroom, both internally and in its relationship with management. So it stands to reason someone will be able to find something bad to say about any organisation. And of course the Fiji Times has had its crap moments, its crap managers, editors, subs, and reporters (but nowhere near in the same proportion as the other daily print media).

"But to complain about the Fiji Times being too 'mean' to send reporters to the HK Sevens ... really. What an irrelevant criticism. In case the Old Hand hadn't realised, the Fiji Times looks more and more like the last best chance the country has. Too mean to send reporters to HK? That's the best you can say against the Fiji Times?"

The old hand told Cafe Pacific the paper had not invested much in training and staff development and there was no such thing as a transparent salary structure at the Fiji Times. He or she said pay increases were made at the editor’s/publisher’s whim and management wilfully used the tactic to keep salaries low since it is not easy to go up to the editor to ask for an increase.

He or she said the Fiji Times was never keen to retain experienced staff. Instead, it let them go so younger inexperienced people could be hired at a cheaper rate. "The Fiji Times thought it was clever but this penny-pinching has caught up with it and "bitten it in the backside to name some of the criticism."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Top Methodist executives tell church they're not stepping down

The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that the president of the Methodist Church of Fiji Reverend, Ame Tugaue, and general secretary, Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, will not step down from their positions despite requests from some church members that they do so.

Tugaue and Waqairatu were asked to relinquish their authority because some members wanted the church to build a better relationship with the Bainimarama government.

The Methodist church acting general secretary, Reverend Tevita Nawadra, told FBC News the two ministers have told the church hierarchy of their intention to stay on.

“The president has written to the churches, the ministers and the superintendent ministers stating their position that they will continue to hold the offices of the president and the general secretary. So that is the decision they have made.”

Nawadra also confirmed that Police Commissioner Commodore Esala Teleni has cancelled their proposed meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the Public Emergency Regulations Decree and the Methodist Church meetings.

“Yes, it’s a sorry situation for us as both the Prime Minister and the Police Commissioner are both saying no to talks because we believe in talking as the most amicable way of addressing any issue but with what has taken place, we’re praying that hearts will open and that we’ll find the proper time to talk to each other and share our differences and our values.”

The Methodist Church has been banned from holding its annual conference and choir competition, which is the main money generating activity for the church to fund its administration.-Fiji Broadcasting Corporation

Moment of Mirth: Bottle collectors rounded up and accused of uprising

Australian Corporation Behind the Funding Campaign
By Namuamua Blog

In one of the most shocking incidents since the 2006 coup, bottle collectors from around the country were rounded up last night and are being interrogated at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua.

According to a military source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the bottle collectors were under surveillance for the past two months after being suspected of planning an uprising against the interim government, recruiting members of the public and funding the resistance movement.

“Reports were in about two months back and we planted our men as moles among these bottle collectors. Those moles were our eyes into the world of these insurgents. We learnt from our spies that the bottle collectors used Morse code through honking to communicate.

"We also found out that money was being channeled into certain households to which the bottle collectors went. We suspect a major Australian corporation behind this funding campaign. Our surveillance has revealed that the bottle collectors go to the offices of this company every afternoon,” the military source revealed further."

However the claims were strongly denied by the newly formed Fiji Bottle Collectors Association. According to the association spokesman, Mr Satya Raju, the bottle collectors have only been involved in peaceful collection of beer bottles.

“I admit that we have at times honked more than usual at houses where there are girls or given less price for a dozen bottles but these claims by the military of resistance movement is way over the top. And as far as charges of funding the resistance is concerned, we do give money to people but it’s for the empty bottles that they sell us.”

Mr Raju also denied claims of Morse code being used through their honking. “If we knew what Morse code was, we would not have been collecting bottles.

Meanwhile, Professor Richard Hayeberg of the University of Western Australia, a leading authority on bottle collectors and international terror funding, the bottle collectors are the most misunderstood people of our generation after the journalists and it could be a case of paranoia by the military.

In other news, Satan has angrily rebuked claims that he is somehow affiliated with Land Forces Commander, Pita Driti.-http://namuamua.blogspot.com/

Samisoni hammers Singh's 'back-to-front' media decree arguments

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:

Coupfourpointfive’s inclusion of Ranjit Singh’s media control analysis is a good attempt at balanced coverage. In the end though, balance is simply about presenting both sides of the argument reasonably. After that, the public must still decide for themselves which argument has more merit.

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).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

PINA chair promises action as fed-up journos say just do the job

The secretariat of the news organisation, PINA, has ackowledged the discontent of its members for failing to speak out against the proposed media decree of the illegal government of Fiji.

In an email to the online disussion group for Pacific journalists, board chair Moses Stevens says: "For the sake of those PINA financial members who are in this forum, PINA board and management are taking on board the constructive comments and suggestions that some of you good people have made on the situation at PINA."

Stevens (pictured above) goes on to say the secretariat will inform everyone of developments, adding: "I believe all board members are standing together and are willing to take PINA forward."

He also asks PINA members to appreciate the difficulties the organisation is operating under. He says: "Most of the members are new to this role as directors of a regional institution and given the fact that the institution has been going down when we came in. Therefore, I urge all island media practitioners and leaders to stand by this board and be ready to offer a hand where you can please."

Stevens pleads for support instead of criticism, saying: "I would prefer to see some of our old hands coming forward to assist than sitting back and watch from the side while a handful of negative minded people continue to tear down an institution that was founded by our media leaders before us for (I believe) the purpose of developing a Pacific Media Standard that is understood and accepted by the Pacific societies."

The PINA chair was pressured into responding after wide debate about the group's failure to condemn, let alone lead, the discussion and criticism of the junta's plan to introduce the Media Industry Development Decree 2010.

It was noticeable that while there has been widespread condemnation by journalists, media organisations and NGO's worldwide as well as other groups, PINA preferred a wait and see approach with its Suva-based manager, Matai Akauola, saying it was too early to come out strongly against the decree.

Gob smacked members, including the vice-president, John Woods, who has gone public with his concerns about the 'dysfunctional' PINA, say it's inappropriate for the organisation to remain in Suva in the current climate.

Dr Mark Hayes, Pacific analyst at University of Queensland, joined the debate this week saying, ordinarily Suva would be a terrific place for PINA and PacNews to be based but not in this current evironment where the military rule has posted censors in every newsroom and a media decree on the way.

He told Radio Australia major aid donors should look very closely at what PINA is doing. He said: "There's no suggestion of any kind of corruption or money going to the wrong places, into peoples pockets or anything like that. It's more a concern about bang for the bucks so to speak; it's more about effectiveness, of transparency, of, uh, forward planning, of notifications of upcoming workshops and scholarships oppporutnities and training opportunities.

"I think anyone who knows PINA .... are very concerned that it isn’t achieving its potential on behalf of its members and Pacific regional media workers .... and we really do wish them the very best of success if they can get their act together."

A journalist from Fiji, Sophie Foster, was more direct. Reminding PINA that its main objectives were: 1) promoting and defend freedom of expression and information, 2) promoting and developing professional standards through training and education and 3) developing professional fellowship and co-operation, she suggested that "if the PINA executives want to start with a clean slate, they take their cue from these objectives and design their work motivation around that."

Saying the time has come, she asked: "Will the PINA executives step up to these objectives? It's not really a choice that's on offer. Just do the job."

Reflections of a Fiji Times old hand

By Cafe Pacific
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WITH all the kudos being handed out to The Fiji Times in the context of the Great FT Firesale being heralded in regime circles due to the foreign ownership cutback to 10 percent in the controversial media decree, it is important to reflect on the other side of the ledger. What has the newspaper actually done in terms of future development of the country and training of the media? Café Pacific has received a bagful of off-the-record comments about the Fiji Times. While it is a very mixed bag, a general theme comes through about the Media Industry Development Decree 2010: The chickens have finally come to roost for the Murdoch newspaper group - owned through an Australian subsidiary, News Ltd. The reflections here of a former staff person are worth sharing:

    During my time I do not recall anyone going on any kind of training. There was no such thing as an in-house training programme. We were thrown in the deep end, which was at the time traumatising.

    The paper has not invested much in training and staff development. While it claims it has invested in training, it never discloses any figures.

    Unlike other News Limited publications, in Australia, there is no such thing as a transparent salary structure at the Fiji Times. You couldn't move up the salary scale on an annual basis (since there was/is no such thing as a salary scale).

    Pay increases were made at the editor’s/publisher’s whim. Because there was no salary scale, two, three or more years could pass before one received a salary increases. You had to ask/argue for a salary increase. Rarely, if ever, was it automatically granted.

    Management wilfully used this tactic to keep salaries low since it is not easy to go up to the editor to ask for an increase. When salary increases were granted, they were marginal; sometimes not even enough to cover the rate of inflation. It was worse than the civil service where the salaries were annually adjusted to the inflation rate.

    Does News Ltd operate in this manner in Australia? The Fiji Times was never keen to retain experienced staff. Instead, it let them go so younger inexperienced people could be hired at a cheaper rate. The Fiji Times thought it was clever but this penny-pinching has caught up with it and bitten it in the backside.

    Despite claims by Ann Fussell that they are 100 per cent pro-Fiji, the company has used lack of legislation etc in this county to exploit its employees. It has done little to uplift standards.

    Foreign publishers tried to outdo their predecessors in increasing annual profits in order to better their prospects at News Ltd. Their own career prospects were the driving force for foreign publishers — lifting journalistic standards or treating staff decently was not a priority as this lessened profits.

    The Fiji Times became so mean that it [frequently] stopped sending its sports reporters to places like Hong Kong Sevens, South Pacific Games and on national soccer team tours. The Fiji Times has not had a decent editor since Vijendra Kumar left [who was in the editor's chair at the time of the first coups in 1987 - he retired to Australia].

    Editors have blatantly used their positions to further personal agendas and to support political parties they favour. This took a dangerous and sinister turn during [first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister] Chaudhry’s term in government in 1999/2000. I am no fan of Chaudhry, but the then editor-and-chief and a certain reporter were clearly out to topple the Coalition government.

    At such times, the Australian company headquarters should have intervened, given that the reporter concerned was having an affair with the prime minister who had been ousted by the Labor Coalition, and she clearly had a vendetta.

Nevertheless, The Fiji Times [founded in 1869] is still a Fiji icon and it should not close. All these problems outlined above can be resolved with the right goodwill. Sustainable local ownership of The Fiji Times is a pipedream and it will be a disaster for both Fiji and the Pacific region if the current owners are forced to bail out.