Home » Uncategorized » Fiji’s Press Freedom Day: self-censorship continues

Fiji’s Press Freedom Day: self-censorship continues

 

Professor Wadan Narsey

7 May 2014

 

As part of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations, the USP School of Journalism (headed by Pat Craddock) held a Panel Discussion at USP on Friday 2 May 2014, to discuss the topic “Media Freedom and the Fiji General Election”.

 

This certainly was progress of sorts in Fiji, in the run-up to the elections planned for September. But who would have thought that the media reports on the panel discussion would themselves illustrate very clearly how self-censorship continues in Fiji, quite contrary to the MIDA Chairman’s guarantee of protection of the media?

 

Panelists included Ricardo Morris (publisher of the Republika), Seona Smiles (former Fiji Times senior reporter),  Netani Rika (former editor of Fiji Times), Rachna Lal (senior journalist from Fiji Sun), and Ashwin Raj, Chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).

 

The chairperson of the panel was Stanley Simpson, former journalist and a former graduate of the USP Journalism program.

 

Quite interesting for journalists and media outlets was the MIDA Chairman’s declaration that he would protect journalists who remained true to their journalism ethics and reported freely without fear or favor.

 

Mr Ashwin Raj came across as honestly and earnestly attempting to fulfill his duties to the best of his ability, under the existing media laws.

 

But the self-censored reporting of Fiji’s Press Freedom Day also showed that the media editors simply do not believe the assertion by the Chairman of MIDA that he would protect them if they reported fearlessly and fairly.

 

Critical views censored

 

Despite the MIDA Chairman’s statements that he would protect the media, the newspapers and television gave very little coverage to some of the more sensitive and critical views of the panelists.

 

Neither did they give any coverage to the four critical questions of a professor (who has written extensively on media censorship in Fiji) who tried to focus the panel on the topic they had been given- the role of the media in the coming elections:

 

1.         Following on from Mr Ashwin Raj’s declaration that media freedom could not be discussed without a thorough understanding of nature of media ownership, the questioner asked the panel how the media owners could allow their journalists to be fearless in their questioning, when the media owners were not dedicated media operators, but had much wider and more important commercial interests which could be hurt badly by discretionary policies of a hostile government. How indeed could MIDA address the problem of vulnerable media ownership, over which issue it had no legal powers?

 

2.        How could one newspaper report honestly and without fear, when its editor was under a 6 month suspended jail sentence; its owner had been given massive fines over arguably trivial offences; and who remained outside of Fiji while a bench warrant had been issued against him on another minor charge; how could one television station report fearlessly when its license was renewed only a six-monthly basis, clearly intended to be an intimidating measure?

 

3.         How could the voters in the election be educated about the relative merits of competing political parties, when both daily newspapers refused to print most of the critical Letters which subjected the government of the day to greater scrutiny? Why indeed did MIDA allow this media censorship to continue?

 

Mr Ashwin Raj informed the audience that he had asked the newspaper editors to explain why they published some Letters and not others, but to date, he had received no answer from any of them although several weeks had passed).

 

Ms Rachna Lal (of the Fiji Sun), when pressed, also said that she did not know why some of the Professor’s letters were not printed despite being relevant to the issues considered important in the elections.

 

  1. The professor informed the panel that while acts of censorship (such as being banned as Chief Guest at the 2013 World Press Freedom event at USP, or being “disinvited” as Chief Guest at the 2013 Fiji Food Security Day celebrations) were quite obvious to the public, but how could the MIDA Chairman address the far more subtle forms of censorship, such as being silently excluded from the public policy arena since 2009 by all the media (except The Fiji Times in the last three weeks)?

 

These questions, while extremely pertinent to media freedom and the forthcoming elections, were not reported by the print media, nor even by Fiji TV, even though it had a special Close Up program on the Panel Discussion.

 

The MIDA Chairman needs to ask himself why the media did not take up his challenge to be courageous in reporting fairly and freely, despite his promised protection.

 

Stanley Simpson, a less than neutral chair

 

One member of the audience accused the organizers of the panel discussion of only inviting Bainimarama Government sympathizers to be on the panel.

 

That view was not correct given the quite critical views expressed by panelists Ricardo Morris, Seona Smiles and Netani Rika, although Ms Rachna Lal expressed her newspaper’s (Fiji Sun’s) broad support for the Bainimarama Government.

 

However, some questions may be leveled at the chairman of the panel, Stanley Simpson and the organizer of the panel discussion, Mr Pat Craddock.

 

Simpson was not the humble investigative journalist of old, but a new personality arrogantly exuding power, who made no bones about wanting to limit critical questions and comments from the floor.

 

One senior professor, who was fooled for a moment into thinking that the use of his first name by the Chairman indicated some old friendship, was quickly disabused of that notion when the chair tried to shut him down while he was asking his questions.

 

Simpson made no effort to remind the MIDA Chairman to answer the uncomfortable questions put to him from the floor, although Mr Ashwin Raj, to his credit, insisted on answering them at the end of the discussion.

 

Simpson also arrogantly threatened the audience that he would close down the panel discussion if there continued to be interjections from the floor, as there was from a rather passionate lady, who objected to the event being dominated by long responses from one panelist, while the audience could not get a word in edge-ways.

 

Stanley Simpson has also become the Interim Secretary of the newly formed Fijian Media Association for journalists, until they elect their new officials.

 

A cautious Head of Journalism?

 

A more interesting unasked question was why Mr Pat Craddock did not invite any academics to be on his panel discussion, whether from the School of Journalism itself, or from the small group of other USP academics who have written much about media freedom and censorship.

 

Well known to Mr Craddock would have been a Professor of Economics who has written many criticisms of media censorship in Fiji, censored from the Fiji media, but available on international outlets such as Cafe Pacific, run by David Robie and his School of Journalism at Auckland University of Technology

http://cafepacific.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-media-ownership-in-fiji-chokes.html

 

Many articles critical of media censorship have therefore had to be published on my personal blog https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/ and other blogs.

 

Mr Craddock would have bee aware that this Professor was banned last year by the USP management, from being a Chief Guest at the Journalism students’ celebration of World Press Freedom Day. Did he think that inviting this person to be on the 2014 panel discussion might raise the ire of USP management?

 

Perhaps Craddock was also aware that a previous Head of Journalism (Marc Edge) had fallen foul of the Bainimarama Government, so did he err on the side of caution in not inviting the same critical academic critic to be on the panel?

 

Whatever the mix of reasons, it leaves Mr Pat Craddock, the new stop-gap Head of Journalism, vulnerable to criticism that he is not averse to practicing self-censorship on Fiji’s Press Freedom Day, just like the media owners and journalists.

 

While the Head of the USP School of Journalism can take some credit for being able to put on a well-publicized and critical panel discussion, Fiji’s Press Freedom has some way to go before it can be the fearless and fair reporter of elections issues, that the MIDA Chairman (Mr Ashwin Raj) wants it to be.

 

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16 thoughts on “Fiji’s Press Freedom Day: self-censorship continues

  1. Thank you Prof W Narsey for your comments. Yes we have lost hope in the media industry leaders in Fiji who generally are spineless lacking the courage to fight for their rights as professional and the publics rights to know the truths and be educated in the the events happening in Fiji lack

  2. In democracy, we agree to disagree.

    Wadan likes to impose his views as THE View.

    Pls stand for election and let’s see if you have popular mandate?

  3. The Founding Vision
    It was one of the wisest of Fiji’s colonial Governors, Sir Arthur Richards (later Lord Milverton) who first offered to Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna the seed of an idea that produced the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB). But it was Ratu Sukuna who planted the seed, nourished it and gave the resulting plant sturdy growth and permanent form. Until 1940, iTaukei landowners, mataqali by mataqali, negotiated the leasing of their land, which they chose to make available. They dealt with competing tenants and lease terms varied from contract to contract. As the amount of land owned by an individual mataqali is usually small there was little chance under such a system of organizing large-scale development. There were echoes of biblical story of the sale of a birthright for a mess of pottage.

    For the sake of immediate gain in the form of cash in hand for a long term lease, the needs of future generations could be sacrificed or endangered. So a national requirement was pressing. The need to provide land for a growing Indian farming population was clear. Ratu Sukuna told the Council of Chiefs, “We regard the Indian desire for more permanent tenancy as a natural and legitimate consequence of an agricultural community settling in any country. But how was this desire to be reconciled with the need to protect the interests of present and future iTaukei landowners? The iTaukei Land Trust Board scheme emerged as an answer to what Ratu Sukuna had been imagining. He later referred to this piece of history as one that is unique in the entire history of British Crown colony government. But its uniqueness was a problem. The idea of asking landowners to surrender forever the control of their land and to entrust its administration in the national as well as the owners interest to a central body was intially misunderstood and opposed. But the proposal was so novel that it took some careful explanation and analysis before being accepted.

    Ratu Sukuna took upon himself the formidable task of making that explanation to every yavusa and mataqali in Fiji, seeking their acceptance. The way he did it is a model in political and social persuasion. He did not rely on printed pamphlets or newspapers advertisements or radio broadcasts. He visited all landowners, village after village and attended districts and provincial councils one after the other, unhurriedly but carefully and patiently he explained the details and purpose of the scheme. Then he went away leaving the idea to ferment before he returned to answer more questions and give more explanations. If necessary he visited them again and gradually acceptance grew, though there were still some pockets of doubt. Then came the moment for the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) to make their decision and after long and earnest discussion the scheme was accepted and approved. Then Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, described it as one of the greatest acts of faith and trust in colonial history. The decision of chiefs have to be translated into law and in a speech during the Legislative Council debate on the iTaukei Land Trust Bill, Ratu Sukuna said: “When passed, the legislation will be a monument of trust in British rule, of confidence in its honesty and hope for the future. The hope that the seed of disruption will disappear and all people (Europeans, Indians and iTaukei) will settle down to labour for the benefit of all.”
    Creating the iTaukei Land Trust Board as a legal entity was only a first step. Officers had to be recruited and administrative machinery established and there was even an important matter in which Ratu Sukuna was called upon once more to play a leading role in. From soon after the Cession the work of investigating, defining and recording the boundaries of Fijian landholdings had been carried out by various able and distinguished iTaukei Lands Commissioners of which Ratu Sukuna was the first iTaukei. He was now given the task of examining each holding and deciding what portion was to be reserved for the present and foreseeable future needs of the mataqali members and their descendants. The rest of the land would be placed in the hands of the iTaukei Land Trust Board to develop or lease on terms, which would ensure that the productivity of the land was preserved. The Board would collect and distribute rent on behalf of the landowner. Ratu Sukuna and his assistants had only just started the massive job of defining reserves when World War II spread to the Pacific creating more urgent needs. For many months, Ratu Sukuna gave most of his time recruiting iTaukei men for the armed forces and the Labour Corp and it was not until the end of the war that he was able to continue with the work of demarcating land reserves.

    Once again he travelled throughout Fiji – wherever possible by vehicle or ship but more often walking over hills and tracking from village to village. Towards the end of his work he discovered himself another talent, and he began to illustrate his reports with sketches of geographical features and drawings of landscapes to amplify his findings and decisions. Travel is easier now but it is doubtful if anyone will ever match the detailed first hand knowledge of Fiji and its people that Ratu Sukuna gained, first in the years as a iTaukei Lands Commissioner that as he accumulated and recorded the facts and made the decisions which are the foundation of the unique system of land administration which he helped in a great measure to create for his fellow iTaukei. They and all citizens of Fiji will have cause for generations to remember with gratitude the fruit of his incomparable leadership and foresight.

  4. It appears Ashwin Raj is paid two salaries – a full USP salary and a MIDA salary. It seems he spends at least half his time doing MIDA work. His MIDA workload will likely increase with the looming election. How will Ashwin Raj do justice to his USP work when half his time is spent on MIDA work? This is double-dipping. Why isn’t VC Rajesh Chandra taking action? USP under Rajesh Chandra is subsidising the work of MIDA and financially supporting an illegal regime. Regional taxpayers and USP students are being short-changed by the USP Vice-Chancellor. Shame on you Mr ‘President’ and Vice-Chancellor of USP. Yet again, you have failed USP students and the region’s taxpayers with your poor leadership in this matter.

  5. The Auditor General’s reports are key to revealing the true extent of Khaiyum and Bainimarama’s large-scale looting and corruption. But the reports are banned from being published and, in addition, the public accounts committee, who oversee public expenditure, was dissolved. This has all been done to hide the truth about Bainimarama and Khaiyum’s illegal appropriation and expenditure of public funds, which includes:
    Bainimarama’s multiple salaries
    Khaiyum’s multiple salaries
    Salaries of Permanent Secretaries
    Military expenditure
    Payments of Ministers’ salaries to Nur Bano Ali’s accounting firm
    Sale of Rewa Dairy to CJ Patel
    Use of cheap Chinese loans
    plus much more.

  6. We invited Prof Wadan Narsey and it was ok with Dr Ian Weber. But Prof Sudesh Mishra blocked it on the instructions of VC Rajesh Chandra and DVC Dr Esther Williams. We were surprised because Prof Mishra boasted on Grubsheet that he was champion of academic freedom. But when it came to the test he failed miserably. The students were very disappointed. Prof Mishra is full of hot air.

  7. The Fiji media’s behaviour is consistent with the behaviour of the rest of the nation: No honour, no guts, no dignity. Everybody seems to be happy enough to be ruled by a family of kleptocrats hoping to get a chance to pick up some crumbs from Khaiyum’s table or steal a little here and there for themselves. It is really disgusting.

  8. Wadan get over it! Fiji is ruled by the Khaiyum family and this will remain so for a long, long time. Come over to our side and you will be richly rewarded. Fiji First is the way to go. We have mind boggling plans to monetise Taukie land, there are millions to be made – just stop ranting, nobody is listening anyway.

  9. My view of Ashwin Raj changed after I attended the seminar at USP. He is right. Sean Dorney’s drunken behaviour in new Caledonia was disgraceful. How can he judge mood of entire nation based on the atmosphere in room with a handful of journalists? How patronising it that?Ashwin is absolutely correct. Not only is this neocolonialism, it is lazy, gutter level journalism. As Ashwin said, Fiji is is in a delicate, transitional phase. We don’t need cavalier journalists like Sean Dorney.We heard earlier reports that Sean Dorney was slightly drunk, wagging his fingers at a PINA representative, and threatening to use his connections to withdraw aid from PINA. Typical Australian bullying. Is this how ABC journalists on assignment behave? Problem is ABC tried to save money by sending Sean both as reporter and PINA delegate. We suffer the consequences of this gross ethical breach by ABC. The biggest injustice is that Sean Dorney is still covering Fiji despite his obvious bias and emotional outburst. So much for ethics. Shame on you ABC. No wonder you in trouble with your government. Clean up your shit before talking about running workshops in Fiji. …”

  10. Sean Dorney obviously can’t get over his ban from Fiji. This is reflected in his journalism, and his abhorrent behaviour in New Caledonia. ABC please do the right thing and save your reputation. Pull Sean Dorney out of Fiji coverage. Give us someone unbiased, unemotionally involved, and with a fresh perspective. Sean Dorney’s coverage is biased, vindictive, boring and predictable.

  11. Prof Wadan Narsey is a name fondly remembered by thousands of people here in Fiji, the Pacific region and the world. He is a man of great courage, integrity and outstanding abilities. His direct and indirect contributions to people’s lives and the welfare of the countries of the region is significant. I was blessed to be one of these thousands taught by the professor. You see, there are people and there are special people in our lives, in our families and in our countries. These special people have a certain gift or two that when used appropriately and in a timely manner, the family, community or nation/s are so much more blessed because of it.

    We are so blessed in Fiji to have a handful of such people in various fields. In fact, when we honestly take the time to survey Fiji’s development and history, we will find that the major achievements and significant developments we have witnessed in Fiji have been those when our nation has embraced these special people and used them to advance the interests and the goals of businesses, education, law, military, administration, sports and other fields. Names such as Ratu Sukuna, AD Patel, Kamisese Mara, KC Ramrakha, S Siwatibau, Savenaca Narube, Waisale Serevi, Pio Bosco, S Sukanaivalu, Timoci Bavadra, and a few others. Some of these people adopt a low profile while others are thrust to public attention because of their roles and responsibilities.

    Sadly, the opposite is also true. Fiji’s demise in various areas can also be traced and objectively assessed. There have been moments in our young history as a nation, when we embraced the undesirable elements of human nature. We entertain and court ideas, people and philosophies that glorify the base inclinations and desires. Instead of insisting on excellence, we accept mediocrity, falsely thinking that quality does not matter.

    This is also relevant as we elect our national leaders. The question is who will we elect as our national leaders? Given the nature and state of our nation, and the awesome challenges ahead, do we have the kind of people who can lead us into the kind of future we all want. What qualities must we look for in our prospective leaders? Are we going to choose the best or are we going to settle for mediocrity? A person can only give what he or she has. You cannot give what you do not have.

    The good news is that we already have some names of prominent people in their own fields. These are people who have demonstrated excellence of mind and in their execution of their duties. There are also those whose record should best be forgotten for they simply do not qualify as one of those special gifted people. However, as far as Prof Wadan Narsey is concerned, I would include him in my list of special people. I have no doubt ha has a lot to contribute to our nation if given the opportunity. If that happens, and I am sure if the new government comes to power through a free and fair democratic election, and Dr Narsey is offered a position, his contribution would be greatly appreciated. If allowed to contribute his all to our young nation, Dr Wadan Narsey will also be remembered as a great person, a courageous leader, brilliant teacher and thinker and an excellent model of inspiration to Fiji and the South Pacific.

    To those who may lack discernment, here is something to ponder. To Aswin, Stanley, Khaiyum, Saneem, and other younger but talented citizens, please accept that there are others who always better than us. Accept them, embrace them, work with them and learn from them. This will add value to your own experiences and the sum of all your team excellencies is far much greater than your own individual brilliance. To our young and aspiring leaders, please focus more on learning and acquiring wisdom, insight and knowledge. These come through time and patience. Do not seek to become stars and leaders overnight. To Khaiyum and Aswin, please learn to listen more than you talk. Wisdom listens. Knowledge speaks. Vinaka.

  12. Breaking news.

    Convict Mahen will not resign while telling others to do so.

    FLP will be lucky to get the 5% threshold.

    Can convict pls resign to save face

  13. Indeed Narsey, the Fiji media has a very very long way to go before it can be called ‘the media.’ What we are seeing is a pack of wolves without teeth! The self-censorship culture has made damages to the extent that print and broadcast reporting are no longer as reliable as they were. They have also become irrelevant because there is an over riding belief of people in Fiji and abroad that the Fiji media setup has been screwed up to do the Bainikaiyum regime’s public relations work! People running the media – journalists and media regulators alike have over the years been slowly converted to the illegal Bainikaiyum establishment itself and they do not even realise it! They have seemingly become the regime’s mouthpiece and everyone is wondering where the supposedly distance between the regime and the media has vanished to. The MIDA above all exemplifies the rotten state of affairs in the Fiji media and it doesn’t take rocket science to work out why. Even a USP staged panel to discuss media freedom and election on press freedom day is as laughable as it gets! There are so many unanswered questions about the self-styled Bainimarama election project and the way the media has performed its duty that a USP panel would be the last forum to get answers from! Why is the media focusing on an election that everyone knows is a gimmick to give Bainimarama the legitimacy he has failed to get over the years and is so obsessed with? There are so many issues and matters begging investigative work and reports on them are virtually zero! More importantly why is the media not following its own agenda but lapping up to the Bainikaiyum administration? There are so many evidences confirming this state of affairs. In fact the state of the Fiji media at this juncture is very very concerning to the majority of the general public who believe that print and broadcast media in Fiji is unreliable and no longer relevant to their quest for knowledge and understanding of what really happens on the ground! The surge for instance in blog-site, twitter, face-book and other internet communication medium is testimony to this. It is a real pity too that the USP itself is a major institutional supporter of the illegal regime as witnessed from the sacking of academic personnel that are less sympathetic to the criminal governing Fiji today! You look at how the USP is run, the way the Fiji judiciary is run, the way the Police, the media, the election commission, the FICAC, the civil service and many other institutions are run, you will see the common thread of towing the dictator’s line. Doesn’t take a degree at USP to understand this. Its all part of the animal farm setup!!

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