MEDIA reports in the past few days have featured the idea of a pirate radio to breach Fiji's news media blackout. Usaia Waqatairewa of the Australian-based Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement has floated the idea of broadcasting "uncensored" news and music programmes to Fijian radio listeners from the safety of a 'pirate radio' ship anchored in international waters near Fiji.
According to the Radio Heritage Foundation - which maintains an extensive database of Pacific radio broadcasters believes - this is the first proposed "pirate radio" station in the South Pacific since landbased Radio Tanafo and Radio Vemerama hit the headlines from Vanuatu several decades ago.
Ironically, this news has just come when Voreqe Bainimarama has been claiming a huge "egg on their face" PR coup over Australia and New Zealand with his "engagement with the Pacific" summit in Natadola - featured in the exclusive print and video reports by Fiji-born investigative journalist Graham Davis in The Australian.
Interviewed on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme and also reported in The Australian newspaper this week, Waqatairewa says that starting such a new radio station would help Fijians obtain a different perspective on events in Fiji where a recent media decree has tightened restrictions on media ownership and cemented ongoing censorship of news reporting and the broadcast of some banned pop songs.
Recent reports have discussions underway with the owners of a Dutch radio ship that could be repositioned to the South Pacific to broadcast on AM and FM to the scattered islands of Fiji.
Waqatairewa says: "Sure, the dictatorship might try to jam us, but we would certainly move frequencies. The ship need only be a floating transmitter because we could send the signal from Australia on a live stream over the net. It would not be difficult to do."
A review of Fiji news websites, including Radio Fiji, Communications Fiji, Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Fiji Daily Post and www.fijilive.com reveals no reference to the remarks by Waqatairewa.
However, the personal Facebook page for Commodore Bainimarama, the Fijian government leader is more revealing on the subject.
Not only is the pirate radio proposal mentioned, there is even a direct link to Radio Australia's Pacific Beat interview with Waqatairewa.
A revealing comment is also attributed to Commodore Bainimarama himself - "our favourite former resident Usaia Waqatairewa wants to set up a pirate radio station in international waters around Fiji and play banned pop music".
The Facebook page includes a range of responses from readers such as "Just another project that will go bust"......."We've got more than enough radio stations here in Fiji"....."Sounds like a brilliant idea but wrong time, wrong situation"......."What a waste of money. Any investors must be mad"....and chillingly, "I wonder how his kin folks are feeling for they could be classified as persons of interest to our security personnel".
Waqatairewa is the former deputy director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission and now resides in Sydney where he is president of the Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement.
He claims his organisation has been in contact with News Limited which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the global media billionaire and which also owns the Fiji Times newspaper which is now for sale to comply with a recent media ownership decree.
Pro-democracy blog Fijitoday has a recent headline "When Will Murdoch Bring His Big Guns to Bear" and observes "It's not just the media he owns. It's billions of dollars he has at his disposal and the human resources he can muster and deploy to make things happen."
Fijian radio listeners will know in the weeks and months ahead whether Murdoch will use some of those dollars and human resources to bankroll the floating pirate radio station that Waqatairewa's organisation is suggesting.
In the meantime, the Fiji government has since announced a new decree requiring the registration of every telephone in the country within the next 30 days or owners face fines of up to F$10,000 or six months in jail.
Many Fijians now use mobile phones for cheap local calls, phone banking, and, of course, listening to the many popular local FM radio stations currently on the air.
If a "Radio Free Fiji" does float onto the Fijian airwaves, there may be many listeners nervous about tuning in with their mobile phone FM receivers if the state has their photo ID, date-of-birth, home address and name on a central database.
For now, Fijians wanting to know about the pirate radio plans can reportedly still listen to Radio Australia news on state-run Radio Fiji, have access to local FM relays of the BBC in Suva and Nadi, can tune to many Australian and New Zealand AM signals at nighttime, and, of course, read Commodore Bainimarama's Facebook page. - Radio Heritage Foundation