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New Pacific Journalism Review Launched At Weekend

Fiji Had 'First Embedded Journalists In Pacific', Says Baba

AUCKLAND: A former Fiji deputy prime minister says the Pacific's first "embedded journalists" were reporters who worked too closely with George Speight's rebels in the ousting of his government.

Launching the New Zealand edition of Pacific Journalism Review at the weekend, Dr Tupeni Baba told academics, journalists and delegates at the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference many reporters had been too influenced by Speight's militants.

He also contrasted the good media relations that the first Labour Government, led by Dr Timoci Bavadra, enjoyed before being deposed by a military coup in 1987 and an "unnecessary media war" between the Mahendra Chaudhry-led coalition government overthrown in Speight's putsch in May 2000.

Dr Baba, now a senior research fellow at Auckland University's Centre for Pacific Studies, and the Listener editor, Finlay Macdonald, both spoke at the launching hosted by Auckland University of Technology's School of Communication Studies.

Chaudhry's Labour government was elected in a landslide victory in 1999.

But Prime Minister Chaudhry's "high-handed attitude and personal dislike and distrust for the media" set the scene for deteriorating relations with news organisations.

"For weeks and months on end, the government was vilified and criticised by the media," he said.

"The Chaudhry-led government filed the highest number of complaints ever reported to the Fiji Media Council by any government.

"This atmosphere of tension and distrust between the government and the media continued throughout the time the government was in office."

Dr Baba, who was Foreign Minister as well as deputy PM in the Chaudhry cabinet, and later led a breakaway New Labour faction, said the government had "played into the hands of the Taukei militants" and other opposition groups.

"When Parliament was stormed and taken over on 19 May 2000, the focus of attention shifted to George Speight. Members of the media were allowed to come into Parliament under the protection of Speight's militants," he said.

"They were, in fact, the first 'embedded journalists' in the Pacific and they wrote what they saw and - like embedded journalists in the Iraq war - they were to an extent influenced by the perspectives of Speight and his militants.

"Similarly, during the Rabuka coups, many overseas journalists who were given access and protection by the military also reported with similar insights from the military's perspective."

Dr Baba said Fiji lacked a local core of independent journalists and said current media codes and systems "continue to protect the interests of the privileged and the powerful".

"These forces will combine to undermine capacity building and the development of strong, vibrant and independent local media."

Listener editor Finlay Macdonald criticised the lack of depth of New Zealand media coverage of the Pacific and challenged Pacific Journalism Review to maintain the high standards set in this edition with a cover theme devoted to the "media war" over Iraq.

Acting head of the School of Communication Studies Dr Alan Cocker said the university was committed to supporting the journal as an institutional publication and establishing its role in media academic research.

The journal published for eight years at the University of Papua New Guinea then the University of the South Pacific.

Founding editor David Robie thanked AUT for adopting the journal, saying its future was now secure. He also complimented the editorial board of advisers, contributors and the cartoonists and students involved in the journal, which was a "special feature" of the publication.


SCOOP EDITOR'S NOTE: The newly released edition of the Pacific Journalism Review includes an abridged version of "The Role Of Media In The Second Gulf War " An Adddress By Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson At St Andrew's On The Terrace - Tuesday, 29 April 2003

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