Sophie Foster's Censorship Survey and How Bainimarama Could Lose the Match

Several readers have queried Sophie's claim that 100% of journalists interviewed by her said they -- or their colleagues (and this is an important extension that was not generally reported) -- had experienced censorhip. The readers were concerned that Sophie said nothing about her survey methodology? How many were interviewed, and from which newspapers?

Sophie is the Deputy  Editor of  The Fiji Times, the most anti-Government and most heavily censored paper. Every journalist in Fiji knows Sophie and her opinions on censorship. From my own Fiji research experience, I know that who asks the question influences answers. Sophie's survey results are therefore highly suspect. But I'm prepared to accept her 100% because the statistic is meaningless. In today's Fiji I would expect most journalists -- or their colleagues -- to have experienced censorship. [ Photo:Sitiveni Sivivatu photo Fiji Times. Read on to see its relevance.]

Sophie's findings on what sort of articles journalists thought were more, or less, likely to be censored was more interesting. But even then, my primary concern, as  I stated in an earlier post, is not with how clumsy and often unnecessary censorhip impacts on the public's "right to know" (that, incidentally, the media and not the public decides) or on "media freedom" per se, but on how censorship (and the self-censorship that will no doubt follow the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations) will impact on the Government's Roadmap.  Short of major derailment by "hostile" forces, the Roadmap holds the key to Fiji's future and, for those sitting in the Government's camp, it is the Roadmap that has to be protected, whatever the costs.

But the most important steps in the Roadmap will not be achieved without the co-operation of the media. Government has to bring the media on board if the attitudinal changes needed to achieve the Roadmap are to be achieved. 

And the only way to achieve this is to ensure those that implementing the Media Decree are intelligent, honest and respected people who will not allow Fiji to return to the media's previous abuse of media freedom or allow Government to impose measures inconsistent with its plans for a more democratic Fiji.

A hard ask, perhaps, but we shall be watching the appointees closely. In the months and years to come, Government has to ease up on critical dissent and accept that much of it is needed and well intended. Not everyone in the team is a frontrow forward.  There's a place for others with other skills. If they are not used, the final score will be Government 8 (from a penalty and a try); Qarase HasBeens 10 (from a penalty and a converted try). Bainimarama's failure to land a drop kick just before half-time lost the match.

Notice: There will be more extensive coverage on censorship and the draft Media Decree tomorrow Saturday. If you don't have access to a computer over the weekend, be sure to check the postings next week. Older postings tend to be buried by more recent ones.


Where's the Ref? said…
That's right, Cros. This whole thing's a game isn't it?

Censorship's perfectly ok as long as it doesn't interfere with the launch of the good ship HMBS 2014. And once that fair ship has set sail, the ratings can rest easy in the knowledge that, even if they want the captain to change course, then our favourite naval officers will step in to ensure that the officer’s mess runs the party again. Or should I say the officer’s party will run the mess again?

As far as scoring goes, we’ve had lots of tries by the Military team. However many more penalties have been awarded to the Hasbeens (and I'm sure that brings back happy thoughts for Jon).

Unfortunately since there’s no scoreboard, the crowd can’t see the point in the game.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Where's the Ref? ...
I like it! A very cleverly worded presentation of one perspective. But what, exactly, are you recommending? I'm focusing on ways forward from a de facto situation.
Jon said…
Thanks for calling it a clever, rather than smart alec, presentation Cros.

Like you, I accept the de facto situation. I’m less sanguine about it than you appear to be, but it seems that to rail against it is an unnecessarily wasteful use of mental energy.

My recommendations on ways forward? This government needs to know if it is following a path towards 2014 that is acceptable to the majority in Fiji. Until now and, from what I’ve seen and heard, until 2014, there is no plan to have a national referendum on the overall acceptability of the roadmap. The pro lobby would have us believe that nearly 70% of the population agrees, the anti lobby like to think that around 70% disagree. Neither group is basing their figures on anything other than wishful thinking, or ‘research’ that can be discredited at the drop of a hat.

Therefore I feel that a national referendum should be the first step. Peter Thompson could ask the UN to make up a team of observers from a variety of nations whose political situations could, either presently or in the recent past, be compared with Fiji in a variety of ways. Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, Sri Lanka spring to mind. That might go some way to giving the team of observers (and therefore the referendum result) some credibility in the eyes of the public.

Once the result is known, both the pro and anti camps will hopefully accept the verdict. Assuming the majority believe that the roadmap has merit (since its clauses are generally reasonable, with one or two notable exceptions), then the next step could be for the interim military government to reaffirm the stance taken in 2007 – that none in the present government (nor anyone who has served on it between 2007 and 2014) shall be permitted to take part in the next election.

Reaffirming its stance will go some way to allaying concerns that it has embarked on an irreversible militarization of government and civil service. To those who say that’s unfairly excluding some consummate politicians like Mr Chaudary, I would say that those who did join the IG in 2007 were fully aware of the military’s stance then. They should not now cry foul and try to be included on the ballot paper.

Even after all this, I believe there will still be a residue of distrust about the IG’s intentions post 2014. This ‘interim’ government will have been in power for 8 years, a length of two terms by normal voting standards. However it has recently let slip (either deliberately or unintentionally) that it will be ‘watching’ the new government to ensure that it doesn’t stray from the roadmap.

This is not the military’s role. The military’s role is to safeguard the elected government from overthrow. If Fiji society should wish to change clauses in the new constitution by voting in elections or referendums, then that is the prerogative of society. It is not for one man or a small group of men, no matter how well meaning, to overthrow the government by force and impose their will – and certainly not after 2014.

However the military will still retain the wherewithal to do just that. Therefore one of the first acts of the new government should be to downsize the military to 1970 levels (± 200 strong) and, through a credible checking process, reduce the number of weapons in the country and publically destroy them. I don’t believe that overseas remittances from FMF members of UN task forces is a sufficiently strong argument for retaining the present size of weaponised military and therefore the continued increase in size of the FMF must be halted.
Jon said…
(continuing to bore you)
I feel that Ratu Mara’s original vision for the FMF, that of helping with nation building, is the most promising. Given the state of our economy, unemployment, urban drift, huge increases in the number of disaffected youth with little education and few prospects etc, I feel there could be a strong argument made for compulsory National Service to be introduced in Fiji whereby those members of the nation’s youth who do not enter tertiary education spend a year, or possibly two, in a demilitarised FDF (Fiji *Development* Force), in which national service is precisely that – service to the nation. Not learning how to kill people in a variety of ways.

The FDF could be run by a small number of permanent military, but be staffed by engineers, road builders, electricians, electronics engineers etc. In other words a version of the Royal Engineers. Skilled personnel would be able to impart their knowledge to the nation’s youth and hopefully they would come out of their national service with a trade, having spent up to 2 years developing their skills in the field for the betterment of the rural areas.

The only reason for keeping a small military component is that such (hand picked) CO's and NCO's would be well versed in the psychology of instilling discipline in those young people who have been allowed to run free in their teenage years, with ever less regard for their teachers or parents.

Presumably the tax rate will need to be increased to cover the expenses of such national service men and women, so I’d better get back to work…
Jon said…
(yawn. wake up at the back!)
But just before I do, one final thought. Political parties for the 2014 election could possibly make a reduction in the military forces one of the main points in their election manifestoes. Then, after the 2014 elections, if the FMF should strongly object to downsizing and a reduction in the number of weapons in the country, that would be rather telling wouldn’t it?

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