Speculation on Pacnews jumping ship to another base – such as Auckland (Radio NZ) or Brisbane (ABC) – as the fledgling agency did after the Rabuka coups in 1987, is unlikely to gain much traction. Radio NZ’s Philippa Tolley, one of the few journos to slip through the regime’s “approval” screening, reported from Suva:
At present, Pacnews is not choosing to include any Fiji stories in its news feed that gets sent out regularly throughout the day. This means it avoids having a censor come into its office to vet stories concerning Fiji. Despite the fact it’s aimed at its regional subscribers, the Fiji government’s spokesperson, Major Neumi Leweni, says if it’s based here it must follow local guidelines: “Well, they are based in Fiji, so they say when you are in Rome you do as the Romans do”.The Pacific Islands News Association, owner of Pacnews, reckons the agency won’t be bowed by the political crackdown. But president Joe Ealedona, who heads PNG’s National Broadcasting Corporation, says the safety and security of the editorial team is top priority.
Meanwhile, amid the climate of self-censorship, the ether is buzzing again. Civil society might have gone quiet for the moment, but cyber society is doing nicely. And it is good to see a few new blogs operating that are being run by journalists with a bit more respect for facts – instead of the rabid hate blogs that have long ganged up on the regime. Welcome to Fiji uncensored and Coup four point five are among recent players. But for a blog that is actually trying to make sense of this mess with some rational analysis, Croz Walsh’s Fiji is still the best. Two good pieces over at the Pacific Media Centre on the comparisons with Thailand and a certain debate on the Marae programme.
Spare a thought for small NGO groups which are involved in development communication but don’t get the attention the bigger media boys get. They also face censorship – such as the feminist group FemlinkPACIFIC:
As coordinator Sharon Bhagwan Rolls shared, “[We send] our broadcast log and community news collation to the Ministry of Information prior to each broadcast. We are also being intently monitored when we are on air (a community radio volunteer received a phone call when she was on air and was told we were being monitored). I have subsequently had to clarify with the Ministry that they channel all communication to me rather than cause extra anxiety to our young women volunteers who, I have to say, are coping marvelously.” She added: “Even if we are communicating within an eight - 10 kilometre radius, it is an important space that we will work hard to retain. We just hope the rural broadcasts can continue too...Ultimately though, with information and communication channels being tightly controlled rural women will be (are being) further marginalised and isolated.”Finally, a word of solidarity for Television New Zealand Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver who has responded to the nasty coconet wireless campaign against her over her controversial “guns, drugs and gangs” story in Samoa with a sworn affidavit. TVNZ backs the accuracy and integrity of her report solidly. And so does Café Pacific. She is one of the journalists who have contributed enormously to boosting serious coverage of Pacific issues in New Zealand.
Cartoon: Malcolm Evans in Pacific Journalism Review.