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Subhash Appana: Unscrupulous Reporting on Fiji

Unscrupulous Reporting on Fiji

by Subhash Appana

It does not take much to notice that reporting on Fiji has been painted and tainted at the whim of the media in both New Zealand and Australia largely because the two governments view the country negatively. This article focuses on analyzing the latest report ensuing from a rare interview with Commodore Bainimarama, the military leader of Fiji.

On Sunday (15/11) NZTV had a 6pm news piece on the fact that the Commodore had given a rare interview to their reporter Jenny McIntyre. Clips were shown of Bainimarama telling NZ and Australia, that “if you bully, there will be a reaction”. He was also seen saying that both these countries should “butt out”. This was a preview to a later program called Sunday on which the whole interview was to be shown.

After the spiked build-up, NZ again saw Fiji’s dictator under scrutiny. McIntyre who’s supposed to have “a cross-examination technique that would be the envy of any criminal barrister" was given a right run around by the Commodore who, I believe, entertained her to see if there was any change in attitude towards Fiji - there was none.

In fact McIntyre’s best brow-beating failed to faze Bainimarama and whatever would come out of her after that was hardly likely to be unbiased. That’s what has happened to a lot of reporters who’ve gone to Fiji to weave superficial paths of understanding, sensationalize the situation and come away espousing the need for democracy.

In 2000, as Suva crackled with violence and lawlessness, I had a long discussion with two foreign reporters (one kiwi, one Japanese) and a cameraman over a few bottles of the amber brew and as I continued to correct misconceptions and shallow understandings about that coup, the kiwi bristled and said, “but you guys control the economy don’t you.
If you take over politically that will be the end of the Fijians. That’s what they fear.”

This was coming from a kiwi reporter who was supposed to be a champion of democracy. Here he was attempting to make sense of a coup that he knew virtually nothing about. In fact many of those who cut their teeth in that 2000 coup still don’t know what it was about. And many tried to rationalize it!

That rationalization always came from the “Indian threat” perspective. The kiwi was propagating in 2000 an unfair and cruel political line that was used to endear the colonials to the Fijian aristocracy and subjugate and castigate the Indians without any conscience during the colonial era in Fiji.

Furthermore, I thought it was hypocritical that the kiwi who had taken over Aotearoa both politically and economically and made the country progress admirably, was accusing the Fiji Indian of having the same designs in Fiji. Something was very wrong with the understandings carried by that kiwi reporter.

The same continues to be seen now. During that Sunday program on 15/11, footage was shown of primary school students in a Fijian school with McIntyre lamenting their future because of Bainimarama’s coup. Only Fijian students were shown with an ominous silence on Indo-Fijian students. This type of selective footage leaves gaps for damaging interpretations. And senior reporters would be only too aware of this.

If that omission was deliberate, was there an implication that Indo-Fijians have no problems and support Bainimarama wholeheartedly. The latest poverty reports clearly show that it is the Indo-Fijian who is the most vulnerable because neither can he fall back on tribal lands nor can he rely on traditional communal social structures for support.

I can’t help repeating that on 24th August, Barbara Dreaver openly said that Fiji Indians “supported” the coup. This time she was presented as a sufferer by her friend McIntyre because the poor girl cannot visit family in Fiji as she’s blacklisted. Bainimarama’s response to that, “who’s imposing travel bans, NZ or Fiji?”

That aside, the most ominous omission from that Sunday program was discussion of the real reason why NZ’s High Commissioner Todd Cleaver was asked to leave Fiji. This is what was deliberately left out of that program by McIntyre. Following the “Presidential coup” of April 2009, a number of magistrates and judges chose to leave Fiji as the 1997 constitution had been abrogated.

This left a void in Fiji’s judiciary and a search was conducted to get judges from outside. A number were identified in Sri Lanka, but they had to travel through Australia or NZ to get to Fiji, so they applied for visas to these countries. That’s when the sabotage mechanism was activated by Fiji’s two concerned neighbours.

Each of the judges was politely told over the phone (no paperwork) that if they took up appointments in Fiji, they would be banned from entering the 2 more attractive countries. In fact anyone taking up a post in Fiji is open to travel bans from these countries regardless of the fact that these appointees could actually act as a bastion against total deterioration and more importantly as agents of the much-wanted return to democracy.

Coming back to the Sunday program under scrutiny here, McIntyre then went on to warn that poverty has worsened, tourism will suffer, support will not be forthcoming, etc. And the Commodore reiterated that Fiji would go through anything to get “true democracy”. That should’ve provided a very useful cue for any reporter, but it appeared that McIntyre chose not to live up to her elevated billing.

Indeed, what did Bainimarama mean by “true democracy”. Shouldn’t this have piqued the interest of any serious reporter? Why hasn’t this line made waves in NZ? There appears to be an interesting twist to “freedom of the press” in NZ. First, McIntyre deliberately chose not to include the very central Sri Lankan judges issue in her vaunted program. And two, nobody is interested in finding out Commodore Bainimarama’s vision of “true democracy” in Fiji.

Is this how the press should operate in a democracy? More importantly, is this what is being prescribed for Fiji? Intriguing questions!

*************

Subhash Appana is an academic and political commentator. The opinions contained in this article are entirely his and not necessarily shared by any organizations he may be associated with both in Fiji and abroad. Email subhasha@ais.ac.nz

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