Michael Field is a NZ journalist with many years Pacific reporting experience. He was fearless in his coverage of the pro-democracy movement in Tonga and in his condemnation of the 1987, 2000 and 2006 Fiji coups -- between which he can see no difference.
Following a succession of negative reports on Fiji (and a rebuke from the NZ Broadcasting Standards Authority for his libellous comments on a former Fiji Attorney-General) Field was declared persona non grata and denied entry to Fiji. He continues to write short, essentially "copy and paste" articles on Fiji for the mainstream media, and he also has a blog where he so departs from normal journalistic standards that his mainstream colleagues must be embarrassed. He has been especially harsh in his treatment of former Fiji High Court judge Nazhat Shameem, the subject of this posting.
In a recent blog posting headed "Fiji Media Joins the Coup" he called Nazhat a "coup perpetrators ... a key player in the judicial coup that sacked a chief justice and ... a close adviser of Bainimarama."
And then went on to write,"Without even the vaguest nod of consultation with the public, Shameem and Bainimarama have come up with some kind of decree defining crime."
IN FACT, the Crimes Decree was essentially the Qarase government draft completed by the Law Reform commission in 2006 before the coup. It is not a creature of this government in substance although it was passed by this government. All relevant bodies were consulted during the drafting process including the judiciary, the Law Society and all the women's groups pre-2006. The 2006 draft also included the treason offences now in the Crimes Decree and none of this was drafted or changed by Nazhat Shameem.
Field then wrote that "subtle changes" were made in defining treason in order to protect ..those who purported to draft this decree from the very charge itself." These changes, he said, were such that overthrowing the Constitution or the government of Fiji is no longer an offence.
IN FACT, the law on treason is a refection of the law as defined in the Silatolu and Nata cases by Justice Wilson and by the common law, and overthrowing the Constitution or the lawful authority of the Government of Fiji are certainly criminal offences under section 65. Treason is an enactment of the common law on treason about which Field seems to be unaware. It was set out in the Silatolu case and is summarised as an act of levying war against the State. This is still a type of treason.
Changes made to the Decree were not in relation to treason. Section 64, on treason, remained unchanged from the Qarase government draft. But the offence of inciting communal antagonism with violence (section 65 (2) of the Decree) that formerly existed as a type of sedition in the old Penal Code, was more clearly defined, and other offences of sedition retained.
However, the point is that the treason definition was drafted not by this government, or Shameem, but by the Qarase government. And it was drafted after a full consultation process.
Field then went on to attack The Fiji Times and the media for providing "its training facilities to the regime for an Education Camp on Military Decrees" before awarding the "prize for the idiot remark of the day" to Fiji Times managing director Anne Fussell for saying “the media workshop has been invaluable in helping our journalists have a better understanding of the intricacies of the judicial system.”
IN FACT, Field's "camp" was a "workshop", organized by Fussell and Fiji Broadcasting Corp's news editor Stanley Simpson and conducted by Shameem, on court reporting by the media, although I have no doubt the Criminal Procedure Decree (note, Michael, not the Crimes Decree!) was discussed because it limits what the media may report before cases are transferred to the High Court without risking contempt of court charges.
Field's remarks on the media are incorrect. They are also very unfair. One might have thought that as a fellow journalist he would have recognized just how difficult it is for Fiji journalists to write stories in the present circumstances -- and just how important it is that they get things right.
If it did nothing else, the workshop would have provided an opportunity to discuss matters of concern and interest on the relationship between the media and the law, with Shameem, and with Justice Madigan who, I understand, was also present for one session.
Finally, he asked, "Why didn’t Fiji journalists simply choose not to go to Shemeem’s School of Indoctrination. They’ve done sweet all else."
IN FACT, Michael, it's Shameem (not Shemeem); it was a workshop, not a school of indoctrination, and the two journalists you named organized it, not Shameem. It's important to get these little things right before you attempt bigger stories.