Typhoid Reports in NZ Media:Croz Complains; Barbara Dreaver Replies

Following the misleading typhoid outbreak reports by the NZ media, I complained to RadioNZ and TVNZ. Below are my letter of complaint,  Barbara Dreaver's reply from TVNZ, and my reply to Barbara.  RadioNZ has not replied.

My Letter of Complaint

TVNZ, RadioNZ and teletext news could lead our tourists to believe they are in danger of catching typhoid if they visit Fiji. Navosa, where the outbreak has occurred, is 50km inland from Sigatoka and the Coral Coast, in an area only visited by tourists on arranged tours of Fijian villages. The main tourist areas are nowhere near Navosa, and the chance of any tourist catching typhoid is extremely remote. To my knowledge no tourist has ever died of typhoid in Fiji, and I doubt many have been infected. The disease can be avoided by taking normal precautions: Do not drink unboiled  water, and wash your hands before eating and after using the toilet.

Further details may be found on my blogsite: crosbiew.blogspot.com

While I am sureTVNZ has not deliberately broadcast this misleading news which must adversely affect the Fiji tourist industry, I am less sure that the journalist Michael Field, well known for his anti-Fiji government views, is not the perpetrator of the information.

I urge you to correct the news before any more damage is done.

Barbara Dreaver's Reply (TVNZ)
Dear Mr Walsh
Thank you for your feedback.
I am not sure where you get your information from but I got mine from the Fiji Ministry of Health and WHO based in Fiji. We got the press conference fed via satellite from Fiji.
In that press conference they specifically said warning letters had gone out to hoteliers on the Coral Coast to watch their staff and guests, that hotel employees should not be around food if they were feeling unwell and the Ministry was discouraging visitors to the area - and as well as cancelling public gatherings an emergency response team is looking at banning all movements to the area. They said they fear the typhoid outbreak is spreading swiftly. Fiji TV also broadcast the above facts.

There was nothing misleading about the TVNZ piece, it was based on the information from Fiji Ministry of Health - in fact kudos has to go to the Ministry for being so upfront about the situation and acting to prevent its spread.

Thank you for your blog details - I admit I have never heard of your blog - but then I tend to avoid blogs except David Robie's from AUT as I find they are generally based in opinion and very little fact. Certainly we would not use details from a blog as fact for a news story. Neither would I get facts for a news item from another journalist's article.

Regards, Barbara Dreaver

My Reply to Barbara
Bula Vinaka Barbara,

In thanking you sincerely for your reply, I think it important to comment further on the matters raised.  

I have not claimed that you (or any other NZ journalist) has not reported the facts.  My complaint only concerns their misrepresentation.  If you read the releases from Michael Field, TVNZ, teletext and RadioNZ , there can be little doubt that the NZ public would think visiting Fiji a health risk. The failure of the media generally to locate the outbreak, Michael's statement that it was affecting the "main tourist area," and TVNZ's statement that "the area of Navosa ... includes the tourist coral coast." was the main cause of my complaint.   

It is not the facts that are in dispute, but the way some facts are reported and others, that should be reported, are not. When journalists consciously do this, it is hard to believe they are merely reporting the "facts." The conscious selection of facts to report a situation out of its context (in this case its location) constitutes an opinion that could well misrepresent the facts.

You refer to the Ministry of Health warnings about visits, public gatherings, and possibly banning movement in the "area". This clearly refers to Navosa, not the Coral Coast, where a separate warning was sent to hoteliers.  You do not make this important distinction in your letter. 

You correctly report that the outbreak could spread, but it should, I think, also have been reported that, for the moment,  the outbreak is confined to an isolated, inland part of Viti Levu, some distance from the Coral Coast and much further away from the main tourist area.  Most NZ reports did not make this at all clear.

I am surprised that as a well informed Pacific journalist, you have never heard of my blog. To date it has had nearly 10,000 unique visits from Australia, 9,000 from Fiji and 8,000 from New Zealand. The blog frequently reports items published on David Robie's sites, and indeed David often used my material. The blog also publishes "facts" and "opinions" seldom reported by our media.  Its political stance and the political leanings of my postings are indicated. I am no newcomer to Fiji, and the blog is informed from a wide range of sources.  Your inference that my sources are somehow less reliable than yours is unfounded. 

I attach for your interest a link to my article on Fiji blogs published in David's Pacific Journalist Review. The original paper was presented to the PIPSA conference in Auckland last December.  http://www.pjreview.info/issues/docs/16_1/pjr_16%281%29_FijiBlogs_pp154-177.pdf

Several of my readers have suggested the recent misreporting of the typhoid outbreak be taken to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.  I do not think this is necessary on this occasion.

Thank you again for your reply.
 P.S. Your statement that "kudos has to go to the Ministry for being so upfront about the situation and acting to prevent its spread" puzzles me.  You seem to suggest it might have done otherwise.

Prof. Crosbie Walsh


SDAW said…
I almost laughed out loud when I read that Barbara claimed to have never heard of your blog. Does she live in a box? Of course she has heard of your blog. Bit of a joke that she pretends she hasn't. I think it was supposed to a putdown but really it just reflects on her. What a great 'Pacific correspondent'.
Talei said…
Oh dear! Is she serious that she hasn't heard of this blog?! I am so sick of "Pacific correspondents" who remain so UNINFORMED about the region! How out of touch can she get? I may not agree with all your material Croz but my respect for Barbara seems to grow smaller and smaller with each story she covers....
jambalaya said…
Barbara seems to have misplaced her talking points (t.p) on Fiji. Has the t.p fax from News Corp arrived yet?
Dreaver drivel said…
Ha ha, that Barbara Dreaver. What an ass. If she hasn't heard of Croz's blog, she's a journo's armpit and certainly shouldn't be Pacific correspondent for TVNZ. But, of course, this is unadulterated nonsense. The buxom temptress from Tarawa is feigning ignorance to make a point. With this pouting little put-down, it's one of the few occasions on which Barb feigns ignorance. The rest of the time, of course, she IS ignorant. A 24 carat hack and harpy with no credibility whatsoever.
Boring Barbie said…
This woman writes like she speaks, with a tinge of arrogance and mild irritation that anyone would dare cross her. Mercifully, when she puts pen to paper, we're at least spared the appalling bogan accent that makes me cringe every time I hear her on television. E dua na marama viavialevu sara ga. It's one of life's mysteries how someone so pedestrian can be TVNZ's eyes and ears in the Pacific. She must be adept at office politics because none of it makes sense viewed through the prism of her work.
High Po C said…

Barbara Dreaver gives credit to the Ministry for not understating the typhoid problem. Your letter postscript chastises her for insinuating that the Ministry might have done otherwise.

In your previous article you reply to Proud Fijian in much the same way - by writing ‘To Barbara's credit, she took responsibility for her story’. Why did you write that - are you insinuating that she wouldn’t?

If you’re going to ungraciously pick such minor holes in her reply to you, please will you explain why you indulge in the same behaviour for which you chastise her?
Croz Walsh said…
@ High Po C ...

Fair enough but my comment was a little different. I was genuinely commending her for replying when RadioNZ did not.

My P.S. insinuation, as you call it, was a little under the belt but I have no doubt Barbara was inferring that government officials in Fiji conceal the truth, and are capable of doing so even with typhoid outbreaks. For the record, the MoH has never concealed typhoid or other communicable diseases risks and figures. Some 280 possible typhoid cases,for example, were reported in 2008, but these were not reported in the NZ media.

But, as you say, this is a minor point. The major transgression was in not accutely reporting the location of the outbreak, leaving NZ viewers to believe that tourists were at risk. And the worst offender by far was Michael Field, not Barbara.

@ Other commentators, No more negative generalised comments on Barbara,please, unless you are addressing what she actually says, or should say and doesn't.
What? said…
No more negative generalised comments about Barbara Deaver? Are you kidding, Croz? This woman is generally bad at what she's paid by the NZ taxpayer to do - report Pacific affairs with accuracy and dispassion. If that's a "negative generalised comment", then I plead guilty. And the woman has it coming.
Anonymous said…
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Charlie Charters said…

I am sorry to be tiresome here but I think the premise of your accusation is wrong and therefore by extension the warnings made by the Ministry of Health and passed on by Michael Field and TVNZ are correct. Agreed that Navosa is especially well known in Fiji for the agricultural and pharmaceutical habits of a number of villagers at the top of the Sigatoka valley, but Navosa extends all the way down to the coast, including the Coral Coast from Namatakula through to Korolevu. To the extent that this is Navosa, and it is, that this is one of the centres of the country's tourism, and it is too, then what is the problem (other than that it is a profound inconvenience when Fiji is trying to get its tourism act together)? Where is the major transgression? Navosa is Navosa. The geography of this may not be obvious because the province is still titled Nadroga-Navosa, reflecting the fact that Navosa was one of the last to accept colonial rule and was therefore deliberately quashed of status, but it is a fact. It is also complicated by the fact that Navosa exists both as a provincial identity and as a tikina cokavata or district (the tikina cokavata of Korolevu for instance). If you doubt me on this - you and I could walk that length of the Coral Coast I mentioned, and stop at each village. For each that paid fealty to the Ka Levu I would remove an article of clothing, and for each that honoured the Tui Noikoro you do likewise. I know who would be blushing first.
As you sow, so shall you reap said…
Oi Charlie, do the boundaries of Navosa really matter? This is about whether the reporting of this story implied a general typhoid threat in Fiji beyond the affected areas. And I think Croz's point is that either not enough care was taken to establish this or whether it suited the purposes of those involved to be selective with the facts. I think the ethical issues are pretty clear cut. The first responsibility of any journalist in NZ faced with this information was to establish whether there was any risk to NZ holiday makers in Fiji. That required Michael Field and Barbara Dreaver to investigate if there was any specific typhoid risk in hotels on the coral coast, where these tourists would generally be expected to be staying. As far as I can tell, that didn't happen. So NZ readers and viewers were left with the distinct impression that holidaying in Fiji might carry the risk of contracting typhoid. Whichever way you look at it, these journalists didn't do their jobs properly. Whether their motive was sinister, we're in no position to tell. But both Field and Dreaver have a record of partial reporting about events in Fiji and only have themselves to blame if the finger of suspicion is pointed at them.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Charlie Charters/Boundaries of Navosa ... You may be correct in terms of history and ethnic Fijian titular usuages (I understand there is a Navosa marker on Queen's Road), but I am not altogether convinced. Adi Kuini, the former Tui Noikoro of Navosa, for example, is buried at Korolevu in the interior, and the lesser Keiyasi title is Tui Nasanivalu. You also rightly draw attention to the importance, for ethnic Fijians, of the old tikina cokavata/makawa boundaries even though these smaller entities were, at least for census purposes, merged in the new tikina vou.

But, interesting as this is, it does not address the point at issue. For Fiji as a whole, Navosa is the inland part of Nadroga-Navosa. This is how it is shown on maps, how it is used in censuses, how it is administered, and referred to by government and the general public. This is the part that has requested government to become a stand-alone province from Nadoga.

You and I can debate the finer points but for ordinary Fijians of all races Navosa is not the Coral Coast, and the Field and Dreaver reports would have led potential tourists to think that it is. The reports were misleading.
Missing the Point said…
As you sow,

You feel that Dreaver and Field were remiss in not investigating if there was any typhoid risk to the Coral Coast hotels. I think the Ministry of Health’s warning to Coral Coast hoteliers could be considered sufficient notice that a risk is perceived to exist.

Better that NZ tourists realise there is a risk of contracting typhoid in Fiji and take simple vaccine precautions as prevention, than not be concerned about the risk and possibly contract the disease.

Dreaver and Field are almost certainly more widely read by Kiwi’s than Fiji Mintery of Health. As such they should be commended, not castigated, for disseminating the information to their audience.

If they REALLY wanted to disrupt the tourism industry here, they’d have been far better to have ignored any reference to typhoid altogether. That way tourists could come here unprepared, uninformed and actually contract the disease.
Anonymous said…
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Hello? said…
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Sudden said…
Could Ms. Dreaver's comments be politically motivated, to disrupt tourism?

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