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Fiji Times blasts Metro's 'one-sided' report

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SUVA (USPJ/Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's largest selling newspaper, The Fiji Times, has criticised New Zealand journalist Gilbert Wong for what it claims is a "one-sided, one dimensional" report in Metro magazine on Fiji.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper was referring to a report by Wong in the latest edition of the magazine, attacking the crime, poverty and suicides in Fiji, suggesting the country has little future.

In today's editorial, The Fiji Times disagreed with Wong's version of events, claiming the report was "sloppy" and gives "tabloid journalism a bad name".

The editorial was run on page six, with an Agence France-Presse news agency report on the Metro article by another New Zealand journalist, Michael Field, on the opposite page.

Metro, owned by Australian Consolidated Press (ACP), is one of New Zealand's leading investigative and in-depth publications and also frequently features highly opinionated articles for a sophisticated readership.

Said the editorial: "Of course the writer is entitled to his opinion but readers of the magazine that published the report were given no inkling that what they were being offered was one person's view.

"And even then, opinions should be based on some research or experience - preferably both. This 'senior writer', it seems, draws on two days of experience and research that amounted to casual chats with a few expatriates who probably had no idea they would be quoted in such a derogatory context."

The Times editorial came to the defence of the New Zealand High Commissioner, Adrian Simcock, who Wong described as having a "stealth" business card that gives his name but no telephone number, address or means of contacting him.

Wong quotes the High Commissioner as laughing in explanation and saying that "if I put my number on the card people would call me all the time and I wouldn't get any work done".

The editorial said Simcock was quoted, if not inaccurately, then certainly out of context.

"Why is it that when so many journalists from developed countries visit the less developed world (usually for 48 hours or less) they see themselves as instant experts qualified to pass judgement?

"It's not only arrogance, it's sloppy journalism that, one hopes, they wouldn't get away with at home.

"And that may be the key. The Metro senior writer may have imagined that nobody who read his report would challenge it since it would be seen only in New Zealand. If so, it makes a mockery of the journalistic craft .

"Of course Fiji has some serious problems and many of them relate to race. We are not so unlike our southern neighbours in that regard.

"There will be inevitable demands to ban this person from visiting Fiji again - but that won't help. We need to educate, not retaliate.

"At the same time we can draw some comfort from the knowledge that our standards of journalism in Fiji, while in need of improvement, have not sunk so low as they appear to have done in sections of the media."

Highlights of the Metro report:

"Poverty is very real and a crushing burden".

"High unemployment with low wages, squatter camps have become a depressingly common sight in Suva, the sorry inhabitants are a mix of Indians forced off rural lands by Fijian owners and rural Fijians who have come to the cities to escape a subsistence life and ended up worse off."

Fong came to Fiji with Shorthand Street TV stars Stephanie Tauevihi and Wikaira Paul. Paul said: "It's like the Bronx man, people shouldn't have to live this."

"The George Speight coup [in May 2000] has not gone away, while Speight sits on Nukulau living in luxury with their own chef and quarters and easy access to cell phones.

"From dawn, queues wind from from the offices of the Australian and NZ High Commissions as Indo-Fijians vote with their feet.

"Something terrible is happening for Indo-Fijians also dominate the nation's suicide toll. This in itself is the country's number one health concern. The three favoured methods are hanging, drinking paraquat and immolation."



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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