At the stroke of 6 am on Wednesday March 17 2010, the silence of the, crisp and cool autumn Waitakere dawn at the Whenuapai Air force base was dethroned by the drone of an aircraft – a carrier of hope.
As the C-130 Hercules aircraft from NO 40 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force taxied out of its hangar, loaded with emergency relief supplies for the cyclone ravaged Fiji, it was a moving epitome of humanity and statesmanship in action.
It also strengthened our belief that every country, once in a while, needs a change in leadership where a relatively younger leader with a propensity to heal wounds, build bridges, and promote goodwill takes over the helm of the nation. Such a leader, with a fresh, liberal, and more pragmatic outlook, bereft of the shackles of old rivalries and unbridled ego, brings new hope to the nation.
Prime Minister John Key happens to be one such person. I had seen him last Sunday at Waitakere Indian Association’s Rang Barse Holi Festival (the showering of colours) at Waitakere Trusts Stadium. He was seen as a people's PM, coloured in the Holi rainbow colours, mingling freely with the old and the young, the Maori, the Pakeha and the Indians, after delivering a bonding powerful Holi message for us all. He has little hesitation in walking his talk on building bridges and improving international relations, especially with countries supplying a large chunk of its migrants.
As a new boy on the block, President Obama brought renewed hopes to the United States of America. Similarly, when John Key replaced the previous leaders both in the National Party and as the country’s Prime Minister, people had expected New Zealand to reach a higher echelon of statesmanship. Somebody who could bring the diametrically opposed parties of Act’s Rodney Hide and the Maori Party’s Dr Pita Sharples under one umbrella, was destined to make a difference in promoting regional goodwill and peace.
During last year’s Waitangi Day celebrations at Hoani Waititi Marae in Waitakere City, I had reflected on New Zealand’s stance on Fiji. I had complained that the experience curve of the lessons of conflict resolution from the Treaty settlement had gone begging when it came to bridging the political chasm with Fiji.
As the aircraft of hope dipped its nose towards the runway at Nausori Airport near Suva – a struggling neighbourhood in Fiji – it was perhaps the first time a New Zealand defence force plane had been in Fiji since the 2006 coup.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mr McCully was echoing perhaps what the Prime Minister desired. The situation in Fiji was a humanitarian situation and New Zealand was reacting to that situation. It was extremely commendable of New Zealand Government to have seen it that way, ignoring complications in relation to an estranged diplomatic situation.
They say adversity brings the best in people. That has been entirely true of the New Zealand Government’s leadership. With a pledge of a sizable amount of aid and, cooperation shown by NZ High Commission and NZAID in working together with Fiji authorities, this shows there are visible signs of a thaw in relations that hitherto had been strained.
The pledge of further help and another aircraft and other resources, that will be at the disposal of Fiji, has shown that the New Zealand Government can, if it wishes, behave like a first world nation to a third world country.
The most hopeful news has been that even Frank Bainimarama (Fiji’s military leader) has been thankful to New Zealand for its gesture. As a media student, the only problem I see is that New Zealand’s mainstream media is obsessed and possessed with its own brand of democracy and solution for Fiji. It refuses to behave like a first world media and exhibits a lack of real knowledge about the situation on the ground.
I was saddened to hear an interview on Radio Live with Murray Mc Cully where the reporter lobbed a leading and suggestive question to the Minister as to what he would do in a situation where Bainimarama was hindering improvements to health in Fiji and distribution of relief supplies. Such blinkered, ill-thought and jaundiced views brought shame and demonstrated a low standard of New Zealand’s mainstream media. This shows why there is need for greater diversity in the media in New Zealand and a commitment to better sensitivity and understanding of other cultures when reporting international issue, especially relating to troubled neighbours, Fiji in particular.
At least in this situation in Fiji, the C -130 Hercules with its capability and adequate supply of parachutes appears not to have taken aboard any parachute journalists.
This is because news coming out of Fiji so far is well-informed and of good quality, fitting in the model of development journalism that has generally been missing from the New Zealand mainstream media’s reporting on Fiji.
I am hopeful that relations between New Zealand and Fiji should improve because John Key is an independent thinker and his foreign policy on Fiji is less likely to be based on the editorial opinions of its mainstream press here, as was perhaps evident during the tenor of the past government.
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a post graduate student in Communication Studies at AUT University.