Tuesday, September 16, 2014
In the classic 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor played by Robert De Niro constructs a phony overseas entanglement just days before a national election in a bid to boost the re-election hopes of an incumbent president. The title of the film referred to something of secondary importance improperly taking on primary importance. In the study of political communication, this effect is known as priming. Intense media coverage of a subject can result in a candidate’s record in that area taking precedence in the minds of voters over more important issues, such as running the economy.
Last week’s freeing of 45 peacekeepers held hostage in the Middle East was thus like manna from heaven for the Bainimarama regime, as their capture had fixated the nation almost more than the election. Could the junta’s Washington, D.C. spin doctor Qorvis Communications have had anything to do with the $20 million ransom reportedly paid by Qatar for their release? Qorvis has the bulk of its clients in the Middle East, including Qatar’s state broadcaster Al-Jazeera. A ransom of $20 million would be chump change to the oil-rich Qataris, and release of the Fijian peacekeepers would be of immense public relations value to the Fiji regime.
The junta thus blatantly milked its good fortune for all it was worth, declaring yesterday Thanksgiving in advance of today’s election. (Fiji time, of course.) As a 48-hour media blackout has supposedly descended on the nation in advance of polling, the news focus will thus have been on the ceremony at the national stadium. Nothing but warm fuzzy feelings will no doubt be felt toward the government, which could have been quite different had the peacekeepers not been released, or even worse been executed. Frank Bainimarama must feel doubly blessed, what with the apparently dismal performance of Sodelpa leader Ro Teimumu Kepa in the recent televised debate. Had the articulate NFP leader Biman Prasad been part of the proceedings, the outcome could have been considerably different. Expect Bainimarama to breeze to victory in the polls, but not quite by the unanimous margin he covets.
As for that media blackout, all is mostly quiet on the domestic front, if not on the blogs. Pacific Scoop reports that government broadcaster FBC ran ads for Fiji FIST within 48 hours of polling, in contravention of the Elections Decree, although they have now disappeared. “Several blogs, a Fiji news agency and many political parties have all apparently broken the rules online,” noted student journalist Thomas Carnegie from Auckland. “The potential breaches show the inability of the overwhelmed Fijian authorities to monitor the chaotic internet. They also raise questions about why the Elections Decree attempted to criminalise the online world over blackout breaches.”
Many blogs have also published commentaries that would seem to breach Section 118. Fiji Media Wars blogger Marc Edge posted a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama. He wrote that Fijian authorities had little influence over the blogosphere. “The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t,” he added. FijiLeaks, published by investigative journalist Victor Lal, posted a comment that the media blackout was a “sinister ploy” to stop damaging information about Fiji First being revealed.
I’m not quite sure what Carnegie is referring to as “a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama.” I instead posted two first-person accounts of beatings administered as part of what I described as “the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006.” That’s hardly a political commentary. Perhaps they were referring to this bit of editorializing.
Events inFiji have reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from going unreported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days?
That’s hardly political advocacy, however. I have never advocated for one party over another in Fiji. I take no position on Fiji politics. My only ambition is to give light to facts which have been suppressed. If those facts have political implications, then so be it. This is much different to New Zealand blogger Crosbie Walsh, who instead blatantly electioneered for Bainimarama yesterday in a clear breach of the Elections Decree. “I am saying vote FijiFirst and don’t waste your vote by voting for any any [sic.] of the minor parties,” wrote Croz, who obviously needs a copy editor. His update to a blog entry titled “What if I’m Wrong?”, which I and others pointed to as expressing doubts about the dictator, was defensive and obviously hurried, perhaps after a heated phone call from Suva. Croz even laced the comments section several times over with a further disclaimer.
To all discussants. Thank you for your comments. Several of you have said I expressed doubt about the Bainimrama goverment [sic.] and took this to mean I had changed my opinion. This is not correct. I am rarely, if ever, “certain” on any important issue, and often start from a position of doubt. I usually consider the likely motivations, causes and effects before making an assessment or judgment. Isn’t this what every intelligent person does? I wrote the UPDATE because the anti-Bainimarama blogs took what I consider to be an honest and upfront statement and ignored its main message which was vote FijiFirst. The only real alternative, SODELPA, will setFiji back a decade.
Croz also deleted several of my comments to the effect that he was indeed wrong. Meanwhile he has left up vile threats such as this one: “Marc Edge, we are watching the arrivals into Fiji. Come if you dare. A wonderful welcome awaits you. You won’t be able to sit down for a year. But then again, you will probably enjoy it. Just biding our time. Tick tick tick.” I guess that’s just proof that I’m on the right track and that the junta really is a vile, murderous lot. I have also been dropped from the Facebook group Friends of Fiji MEDIA for the crime of having posted links there to my latest blog entries. Group administrators are obviously concerned about penalties in the Elections Decree that provide for fines of up to $50,000 and prison sentences of up to 10 years in prison for violating the Elections Decree. I haven’t been dropped from other Facebook groups, for some reason, such as the Fiji Democratic Forum or the Fiji Economic Forum, so I should be able to post a link to this blog entry in those groups. Does that mean economists and democrats are less concerned than media about violating the Elections Decree? More likely it means there hasn’t been the pressure applied to them that has obviously been applied to Fiji media.