They had absolutely no idea. Few of them knew very much about Fiji, except that it was a South Sea island where they went for a holiday. Very few of them knew much about the political system or the names of the leaders. So it was a surprise for us, and I think it was a big learning experience for the Australian and New Zealand journalists. The NZ journalists had a little more knowledge about Fiji than the Australians, because NZ had closer contacts. Fiji got a lot of coverage on New Zealand radio and in NZ newspapers even before the [1987 Rabuka] coup. But Australian newspapers never reported anything that happened in Fiji, as far as I remember, unless it was something sensational.Has anything changed that much? Picture: Mason/Pacific Journalism Review
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.
There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:
The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.
As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):
This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.
A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).
Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Many of the local media in Fiji were quick to seize on the regime handout about the adjudication. Radio Fiji summed it up by saying "controversial journalist Michael Field has been rebuked by the BSA ..." Fiji Daily Post ran an article by Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, claiming - unfairly - Michael Field "'wings' it when he can" in an article under the headline "The writing on the wall". Even NZPA circulated a piece that largely echoed the Fiji government line that was also run on Field's own media organisation's Stuff website. Kiwiblog highlighted the actual inaccurate statements and sparked a handful of responses, one posting noting that the Fiji regime should be recognised as the "nearest thing there is to a benign military junta". Field himself, according to an email to Pacific Media Watch, regards the reporting "shallow" and the adjudication itself as "interesting". Bruce Hill also gave the issue an airing on Radio Australia's On The Mat.
Meanwhile, in other blood-letting about the Fiji media and politics, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh has been riled by Kamal Iyer's one-sided monologues in the Fiji Times about life under the regime. He has written an alternative view of balance and fairness. Singh also takes a potshot at conflicts of interest in the Fiji media.
- BSA upholds complaint against Radio NZ
- Standards body slams Field
- The writing on the wall - Shaista Shameem on Michael Field
- Kiwiblog on BSA ruling
- Full text of BSA adjudication
- A crying need for a 'balanced, neutral and fair' media in Fiji - Thakur Ranjit Singh
- On The Mat features the Michael Field adjudication
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Fisk dismissed it out of hand, saying nobody had discussed it with him. He said he had no time to be involved in local stories: "I'm 62, have 22 countries and four wars to cover, I don’t have time for anything that does not involve the Middle East". While he did talk to Ahmed Zaoui when in NZ three years ago, it was "clearly an Algerian story". The beat-ups (following the original mischievous Cohen beat-up) were in Scoop, who was asking for the "real leak" to stand up (not a bad idea, but it won't happen), and NZ Herald Online. Fisk launched into an attack on the internet, saying the medium was out of control and lacked the integrity of the printed paper. As far as he is concerned, the internet is a "system of hate" and fuels the risk of an extreme act by a nutter against outspoken journalists such as him.
Here's a story that came out of the seminar that does have some substance - the transformation of the US Soldier's Creed to the Warrior's Ethos ... war without end! Of course, little was reported about that. This video clip is thanks to the Pacific Media Centre team of Kate Morse, Joe Rixon, Naveena Baratharaj and Jim Marbrook on the PMC YouTube channel - and there are a couple of other good ones '50/50 journalism' and 'weapons of mass destruction'.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Apart from the core of AUT student journalists, radio and TV students and staff who had ditched their mid-semester break to come along to be challenged, inspired - and even entertained - by Fisky, there were academics, civil rights activists and many others. Robert Fisk was in NZ for a promotional tour for his latest book, The Age of the Warrior.
The AUT booking was thanks to Amnesty International. The lecture theatre (chosen for its intimacy and which normally seats 160 people) was packed out with at least another 40 or 50 people for the hour-long lunch date. Just as well there were no health and safety hawks drifting around. Fisk was at his inspirational best - it's quite extraordinary to see a journalist having such a cult following. Many editors were sighted in the audience, including the NZ Herald's former editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis, who chose the AUT rather than his own University of Auckland bash, which was charging $25 a head for a Fisk Amnesty fundraiser.
Fisk had plenty of gems on offer for his audience including anecdotes about his contempt for how the internet has become "a system of hate". Scolding media for not reporting the full truth about the Middle East, he also had some advice for the neophite journos that wouldn't go down too well with either the digital natives or the digital grandstanders:
- "Write only for newspapers, which print what you write as you write it".
- "Get on a good relationship with a trustworthy editor. If you can't find the right newspaper in New Zealand - and I can imagine what you might reply to me - look elsewhere."
- "Don't go into blogging, it doesn't work. It doesn't have the integrity that the printed paper has - you won't get into mainstream journalism that way, anyway."
- "Don't refer to the mainstream press as the mainstream press."
- "Don't waste your time writing for the alternative press because it is only read by believers."
- "Challenge your government."
- PMC photographer Alan Koon captured Te Waha Nui editor James Murray (top right) joining the believers at the book signing after he had seized an earlier moment to video the scribe in full force.
- Pacific Media Centre's Melissa Fidow's audio report
- PMC Katie Llanos-Small's profile on Robert Fisk
- PMC photo gallery on Fisk
- Other Fisk reports
- Only the internet can stop Robert Fisk
Monday, September 8, 2008
Fiji is funny. The coup is now generating humour and the past politicians are becoming hilarious. Eighteen months after the coup of December 2006 Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister was kicked out of government, his government house and his government car. He has now realised that something is wrong and become so incensed that he filed a treason complaint with the police on the grounds that the December 6 coup was illegal.
Treason. Doesn’t the word make you cringe, go pale with fear at being hanged, drawn and quartered or at least exiled for life to the island of St Helena where you will view the house where Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his glorious past, France, freedom and failure?
Qarase lodged his treason claims against a formidable group of people that include the Interim Prime Minister who led the coup, the Chief of Police who was an army officer and part of the coup. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you it was the coupmaster who made him Chief of Police.
But there are civilians on the alleged traitors list too. It includes the aged and dignified Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca and the 45 members of The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). One name on the list is John Samy, the gentle spoken boss of the NCBBF Secretariat who has led the way writing the People’s Charter with its message of love thy neighbour.
Dear John also appeared on the front page of (The Fiji Sun, September 6) with his photograph and the headline "Coup was illegal: Samy". He denies saying that, but it brings a smile or scowl to the face, but which face or faces!
I’m not sure who all the 45 members of the NCBBF are but they include Mahendra Chaudhry, who must have got wind of the treason charge as he resigned from the council a few weeks ago and is now defending himself with a phalanx of political jargon. There are another 44 other people on that guilty council list. They include academics, traditional chiefs, business people, trade unionists, a woman from an NGO and a priest who has spent many years helping the poor.
Obviously this is a meddling priest. We all know that there only around half the nation live in poverty or damn near it. This priest says so little about the other half of the population. Now, there is prejudice for you, and as we learned from Qarase – treason!
Mick Beddoes, the former leader of the Opposition, is an interesting guy. Big in body, bold in voice and so convinced that he is right. He has now publicly supported the treasonous charge brought by Qarase and company against the army and those nasty NCBBF members.
But, wait, there is more. If you had watched the Fiji TV news on Monday, September 8, there was a news item saying that Mick, the man, has joined the NCBBF when it started. He attended the meeting, took the allocated allowances and then resigned. So Mick, the man must also want to be in court in the defendants’ box when the treason trial begins. Good man, that Mick is, he recognises the error of his ways, and is preparing to suffer the consequences. I don’t know if he is Catholic or Methodist or whatever, but on St Helena, I am sure the Archbishop will give Mick good Christian counselling.
This Mikado story took another turn today. A former Fiji police commissioner said in a serious voice, so we would not laugh, that it would be difficult for the present police commissioner to be impartial in his investigations of the Qarase accusations, when he is also mentioned in the complaint, as being implicated in the coup.
Let me end with Major Lewini, the government spokesperson who seems to be
always lost for words, but who can make up for it with scowls and a few mumbled key phrases. Today he inferred that Qarase and his team are having foul fun and no good would come out it. Other men make the humour, Lewini is the straight man. We do need a reality check in Fiji, or at least in Suva, where all this stage cavorting is going on.
Last Sunday on TV, the interviewer was conducting a serious discussion on proposed new rules for the next general election. He said to one of the participants who was talking about recreating part of the political past, that the boat has already left the wharf. A neat metaphor.
The way I see it, the boat left the wharf during December 2006 and it’s getting further away. It’s difficult to see when it’s going to return and when it does, will it hit the wharf with a great wallop and damage both the people and the goods on board?
Thursday, September 4, 2008
New Zealand was actually a television pioneer in the region. It first set up broadcasts by the fledgling Niue Broadcasting Service in 1988. And it quickly followed this pilot project with TV start-ups in the Cook Islands (1989), Nauru (1991), Fiji (1991) and Samoa (1991). The 1991 Rugby World Cup was an impetus for this. TVNZ also provided nightly feeds of Network News gratis to these broadcasters until 2005, when it lost the use of the satellite providing the transmission. Then higher costs forced TVNZ to take a good hard look at its overall model for the region. Over the past few years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has footed the bill for seven hours of news broadcasts a week and a grab-bag selection for four hours a week - programmes like Close Up, Tagata Pasifika and Mucking In being in the mix.
Now, mindful of the competition in the region from broadcasters like the ABC and Australian Television with far more resources, TVNZ is stepping up for the challenge to boost the NZ presence in the region. Its proposal, first raised in October 2007, and reworked the other day before the select committee, offers three scenarios:
- Immediately expanding the current service from 11 to 15 hours a week - and then to 20 hours a week further down the track. The bill? $320,000 a year.
- Creating a Pacific Broadcasting Trust starting in the 2008/9 financial year. About $1 million would be spent over three years to "assist broadcasters in the Pacific increase the numbers of viewers they can reach".
- Developing a dedicated TVNZ Pacific Channel from the 2009/10 financial year. And this would cost around $2.24 million a year. Expect this to be one of the topics for discussion at PIMA 2008.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Last week's Media Diversity Forum, organised by the Human Rights Commission and the Pacific Media Centre on the Nga Wai o Horotiu marae (AUT), was a success with the highlights being Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin and Asia Downunder's Bharat Jamnadas. Not too many palagi mainstream media movers, but plenty of Pasifika shakers ... and a host of brown students! None of the eight tenured palagi journalism staff from AUT were there - all "too busy" to get a fresh view outside the square. If j-schools can't set the pace, then what hope is there for changes out there in mahogany row? Fiji-born Jamnadas regaled the audience with amusing anecdotes of resistance in mainstream TV because of his "accent" and experiences, but gave an insightful account of the progress of a programme that leaves TV3's Sunrise, for example, for dead. His experiences echoed those of many Pacific journalists who have migrated to NZ from the region with strong reputations but battle to even get a look in with monocultural newsrooms. (And his story was picked up as lead "highlights" item on AMIC's Alternative Media portal in Singapore. Scoop also linked to the PMC coverage).
Sometimes Pacific journos eventually get a break, like Rebecca Singh as weekend news anchor of TV3. She was the best news presenter on Fiji TV, and she's now the best on TV3 too, if only they would fully recognise it. Cafe Pacific reckons she should quit NZ and team up with Al Jazeera, the best Asia-Pacific news programme broadcast in this country (but only scheduled snippets on Triangle) by far! Sometimes the Pasifika expatriates head back again, like Fiji's best political reporter, Riyaz Sayed-Kaiyum, who ended up back in Suva as Radio Fiji's CEO after a stint with Asia Downunder. But this political appointment created a loss to the journalism cutting-edge.
During the forum, a couple of new Pacific media books were launched by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres - Media and Development (25 Pacific contributors) and South Pacific Islands Communication (15 contributors) were "courageous" publications, he said. What a contrast with the single so-called "Diversity" chapter in the recently revised edition of the JTO journalism textbook Intro - this is so underdone it isn't much use as a teaching resource. Incidentally, congratulations to Justin Latif (Western Leader) and Melissa Davies (TV3) who won runner-up prizes in the Whitireia diversity reporting award this week - both AUT graduates and they were among the AUT graduates and current students who made up half the award shortlist, far more than any other j-school. Picture: Alan Koon.