Fiji TV station faces inquiry
A Fiji television station is under investigation after broadcasting a story about indigenous dissent toward the military regime.
The comments by ratu or chief Timoci Vesikula hinted that Fiji’s supposedly dormant racial tensions remain a potent force.
“Race is a fact of life, and it is very difficult to reconcile our differences,” Vesikula told military leader Frank Bainimarama in a meeting aired by Fiji TV and now under investigation after the regime complained.
Ever since staging his 2006 coup, Bainimarama has claimed to have taken race – an element in all four of its coups – out of Fiji politics.
But Vesikula, who was a democratically elected politician, said it was indigenous Fijians who made the country.
Of Fiji’s 837,000 people, 37 per cent are Indians and 56 per cent indigenous, who are now officially known as “i-Taukei”.
Bainimarama has called for democracy-restoring elections in September.
He yesterday met Vesikula and the chiefs of the Tailevu area, traditionally restive and pro-indigenous nationalists.
“There are a few issues that we need to remind you of since you’re from Tailevu,” Vesikula told Bainimarama in an address translated by Fiji TV.
“We will be frank with you in the hope that you will take extra precautions.”
Using indigenous phrases, he told Bainimarama his power base was with the indigenous.
“You have the i-Taukei support for the general elections but do not be mistaken that other communities will support you.”
Bainimarama scrapped education scholarships for i-Taukei-only students, providing instead a non-racial version.
Vesikula denounced this, asking Bainimarama what he was doing and saying that while Fijians were not allowed to be called that any more, what exactly did “i-Taukei” now own.
“You have taken the scholarships away. I want to ask you, what will you be keeping for us?”
Vesikula said there were sections of people – he used a slang term in Fijian that implied Indian – who were simply appeasing Bainimarama to obtain business opportunities.
In a statement, Fiji TV said the military regime’s Media Industry Development Authority (Mida) was investigating the report after Ministry of Information secretary Sharon Smith-Johns claimed it breached the regime’s Media Decree Code of Ethics.
Other Fiji media barely reported the confrontation, with the pro-regime Fiji Sun quoting Bainimarama as saying: “I’m really touched with the support of the Tailevu province for me as I prepare for the September 17 elections.”
Mida, which was set up by military decree, controls media coverage.
It ruled last month that three foreign journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Television New Zealand and Fairfax Media, would remain banned from the country.
– © Fairfax NZ News