Twists in the Tale of Two Cities

How Fiji media censorship backfired, how Wadan Narsey's article was not quite as apolitical as he claimed, but should have been published anyway;  and how Michael Field used what Wadan said or was thought to have said -- with a little bit added.

1. Wadan Narsey in Suva

Why on earth government censored at the Fiji Times rejected an article titled  "Fiji’s far-reaching population revolution" is anybody's guess, but it could be because it was written by well-known coup critic USP's Economics Professor Wadan Narsey. Or perhaps they were put off by the word "revolution" or thought population projections with political implications too dangerous a topic to publish at the present time.  If they read the article, which is by no means certain, I can't see where their objections lie. It's written by an academic for general readers. This is one of the benefits of having university researchers just down the road.

And the topic -- the causes, and political, economic and social implications of a Fiji population with  proportionately fewer Indo-Fijians -- is surely a matter of importance and interest. Everyone knows about Indo-Fijian emigration (5 to 1 emigrants compared with ethnic Fijians). Fewer will know about differences in ethnic differences in fertility, although well over ten years ago Wadan's demography colleagues Dr Kesaia Seniloli, Dharma Chandra and Dr Martin Bakker showed Indo-Fijian total fertility rates to be dropping far faster than those of Fijians, and fieldwork by my USP students as long ago as 1975 showed far less use of family planning by Fijians.  The students even suggested a reason: Fijian authorities were encouraging Indo-Fijians to use family planning, but not ethnic Fijians, for political reasons! These differences are not new, as Wadan claimed.

It's true Wadan highlighted what he thought to be political consequences of having proportionately far few Indo-Fijians, saying the changes sought by the Bainimarama government would happen naturally, as a result of demographic change, with no need for the 2006 Coup or further government intervention.

Thus, he argued, fewer Indian voters would make race a non-issue; better ethnic representation would occur in the public service; schools would be more ethnically mixed, and race relations improved; and there would be no need for Fijian affirmative action programmes.  These are Wadan's deductions.  They are not facts. Race is only one of the variables in play and society and social change are far too complex to infer  "inevitable" outcomes 20 years on.

Wadan's projections and their assumed implications can  also be challenged. For example, a 20-year population projection (to 2027) is unusually long. Five and ten year projections accompanied with "scenarios" showing maximum and minimum expectations are more usual. 2027 is a human generation away and even then Indo-Fijians will still comprise a not insignificant 26% of the population. NZ Maori comprise about 15% of NZ's population yet ethnic inequalities and racism persist and the Maori are significant politically. Numbers and proportions alone do not produce desirable changes.

But Wadan discussed many other -- non-political -- issues about which the public should be better informed.  They included discussion on the number of children, education and household wealth; patterns of household consumption; and the implications of an ageing population.

Unfortunately, the censors' action deprived other academics and the Fiji public of the opportunity to think and comment on the  important issues he raised. But having said that, Wadan could have been more circumspect without compromising his academic integrity. Some of his comments were unnecessarily adversarial -- including his parting shot that the 2007 census was taking too long to analyse. The 1996 census took just as long.

Whatever. The censors' action backfired. They should have allowed publication, with perhaps minor editing. Alternatively, they could have invited comment on Wadan's methods and contraversial points from a person from another academic discipline -- a sociologist, historian or demographer perhaps -- and a different political perspective.

2. Michael Field in Auckland

Michael's article, based on Wadan's article and the phone conversation, was published in Stuff, a Fairfax on-line paper with a large and influential readership. Here are some extracts that require correction or comment:

1.  The Indo-Fijian population is plunging, a fact that has been censored by the military regime, an economist has revealed. [Wadan did not say the Indo-Fjian decline was censored. He said the article was censored. The decline has been ongoing for at least 30 years. Government has made no secret of the decline, and figures showing this are available on the Fiji Bureau of Statistics website.]

2. Dr Narsey said his demographics paper has been banned but has circulated outside the country."The censors won't allow it," he said from Suva."I hope I don't get taken in, they have rung me and threatened me." He insisted on his right to discuss data of major significance. [The article was censored but is available on the USP website. The threats were a different matter altogether.  They occurred much earlier and had nothing to do with article.]

"If you want to live life like a human being, you have to live it... If we cannot do the things that are our responsibility then we are not fulfilling our responsibilities as teachers and elders." [Wadan did not give permission for these personal views to be published. He was not told he may be quoted. In the present Fiji circumstances, it was irresponsible of Field to publish them in this manner.]

3. Dr Narsey said for more than 50 years the racial balance has been Fiji's "politically explosive issue".  The issue was behind all four of Fiji's coups between 1987 and 2006. [Wadan's link between race and the 1987 and 2000 coups was less directly drawn leaving open the possibility of other causal factors, and he made no link with the fourth, 2006 Bainimarama coup. That was Field's inclusion.]

4. Commodore Bainimarama was trying by decree to create a multi-racial electoral system, but Dr Narsey said the numbers show that indigenous government is inevitable.[This conclusion is purely Field's. Wadan said nothing about an inevitable indigenous government, and there is no reason to believe that Fijian numbers will produce a Fijian government. Multi-racial governments seem far more likely.]

5. In education the population change was "remarkable and potentially revolutionary" with a majority of indigenous Fijian in Hindu schools. "It's a remarkable change, and they are fundamental changes taking place out in the country... it is going to have some marvellous impact on multi racialism in the country, much more so than these silly military decrees." [Wadan must have said this on the phone. Only the assumed impact of mixed schooling on race relations was mentioned in the article. Field was unthinking or unkind to quote him on silly decrees.]

6. "We are losing all of our intelligentsia ... anybody who is bright and had get-up-and-go, has gone. What we have left is pretty much intellectually rudderless."   [Wadan was far less sweeping in his article. I doubt he would have expressed this opinion had he known he would be quoted. I doubt USP is rudderless.]

Comment and Opinion
Facts are one thing, even when correctly stated; their interpretation and use is another. I am a population geographer just as qualified to analyse demograhic changes as Waden. My professional opinion is that Wadan's fixaton on race has led him to overlook other factors that will also influence Fiji's political future. General education levels are rising; more ethnic Fijians are engaged in the cash economy; economic class is now universally important; and the influence of chiefs and church is deceasing. Major social and cultural changes are happening in ethnic Fijian society. And this is without considering the changes sought by the Bainimarama government.  Wadan  overstates the recency of the demographic changes, over-simplifies their implications, and gives no credit to current institutional changes.

My personal opinion is that while we all select facts to support our personal political opinions, there are some who play carelessly with facts even to the point of deliberate distortion. I do not think Wadan is open to this charge but I am less sure about those who have used him in their writings.

The irony is that had the censors allowed the Fiji Times to have published Wadan's article, which in my opinon they should have done, the full range of Wadan's ideas would have been open for intelligent debate, and been less liable to misinterpretation by the international media.


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