Being Frank, with a Postcript on Chaudhry and RadioNZI Dishonesty
Last Friday the Fiji Sun reported the PM to say “The people want the general election to be deferred further because they are in favour of my Government.” And then all hell broke loose.
The anti-government blogs had a hay day; most overseas mainstream media seemed to have missed it, thank goodness, but it was picked up by IndianWeekender in Auckland. When I went back to the Sun, I had difficulty finding it but the news was out in the ether somewhere.
In one voice the Anti's said Bainimarama was flying his first kite: elections would not be held in 2014.This was his intention all along. He's broken promises before. In a month or two he'll fly another kite, and then with the "people's approval," he'd rule for life. Pax Bainimaramus!
More moderate opinion, including comments on this blog, regretted the announcement saying many supporters would desert him if the report was true.
Well, it was true, in a way. The Sun had not misreported him, assuming there was a proper translation from the Fijian or, if in English, he was not thinking in Fijian. The word "people" could be a rough translation of vanua, or i taukei.
The article went on to report the PM on the positive feedback he'd received on his provincial tours ("never before had such major development work been carried out in rural areas and in the outer islands") and then at the end, but given little to no mention by his detractors, he launched into "foreign leaders and former Fiji residents who were against his Government should visit the people on the ground and hear their views."
The next day, FijiLive published a short piece under the heading "Elections still on in 2014 says PM." Bainimarama told FijiLive his comment about elections was made in light of comments made by the Foreign Ministers of Australia and New Zealand that the situation in Fiji was worsening.“How can the situation in Fiji be worsening when the people in the rural areas actually want a delay in elections,” he asked.
In retrospect, it is obvious his remarks were a response to the foreign ministers and that he was talking about Fijian villagers, not the many ethnic people of Fiji. But at the time there was some ambiguity, and ambiguity produces doubt: the last thing Fiji needs as it seeks to win support, attract investors, concentrate on the Roadmap, and grow the economy.
No irreversible damage has been done but clearly journalists, editors (and censors if they read the article) need to take greater care. These are not ordinary times. Readers should not be left to second guess the PM's meaning. There should have been no doubt about the context of his remark. Its release should not have provided further ammunition for his opponents.
I noted with interest that the Warriors Rugby League team employs a full-time media manager. Several readers have supported my suggestion that the PM needs better PR. I know this view is not supported by some people in Fiji but if a mere rugby league team needs a media manager, how much more so is this needed for a country under siege?
Postscript on Probable Dishonesty. Mahendra Chaudhry and RadioNZInternational are either well behind the play (which seems unlikely) or they deliberately read into Bainimarama's remarks what they wanted to read in order to make the most propaganda use of the incident. Chaudhry calls for a referendum to test Bainimarama's comments, taken out of context, and RadioNZI quotes him, long after the situation was clarified, and published in FijiLive.
I don't use the word "propaganda" loosely for that is what it seems to be. RadioNZI (Richard?, John?), your credibility is dropping fast. Mahendra, you lost yours some time back when donations from India appeared in your personal bank account.