Grassroots & Democracy, Fiji Times & PER, Village Bylaws Dialogue
KEEPING THE PEOPLE IN THE DARK. CCF's* Mosmi Bhim is at ANU (Aust. National University) in Canberra for a month on a human rights and governance scholarship awarded by either ANU or the Australian Government, I am not sure which. She is spending most of the month examining the Fiji Government Decrees.
Mosmi's general position has always been opposition to the 2006 coup while recognizing shortcomings in the former government. She is, in my opinion, part of Fiji's "middle ground" that Government needs to win if its plans for the future are to be sustainable.
In a recent Radio Australia interview she said that both the current military regime and past Fijian leaders had successfully prevented the grassroots population from protesting the lack of democracy in the country. She thought this could be because of the problems of infrastructure and development that we have, which prevents people ...receiving enough critical information to make up their own minds whether what the leaders are saying is right or wrong." * CCF Citizens' Constitutional Forum, a prominent NGO.
FIJI TIMES'S FUTURE. Seona Smiles, communications consultant for the Fiji National University but also a popular contributing columnist for the Fiji Times, is concerned for the future of the paper.“The government is wrong to think that by some magic it can change the Fiji Times into a non-critical publication by forcing its sale,” she said. “I am very concerned at the future of a very small newspaper that has a 141-year history in Fiji."
Fair enough, Seona, there are sound grounds for concern about the future of responsible but independent journalism but I fail to see how the Fiji Times's transparent political agenda over the past few years (starting sporadically from the lead up to the Chaudhry-led government in 1998-99) gives it any claim to honest criticism, independence or responsible journalism. It is better it starts with good intentions and a clean slate.
Seona said something similar in another interview: “Now that the sale has been forced by the government perhaps these extremes will be lifted. Perhaps we’ll have a second chance to establish ourselves as a newspaper of record.” She said there was general relief that the paper had found a local buyer to keep its valuable archives and 140 years of institutional memory going.
AUT Journalism head and veteran Pacific commentator, David Robie, fresh back from Fiji, wondered why the paper had published so little about it own takeover: "Apart from a banner headline in The Fiji Times, “Motibhai buys Times,” on a story bylined by a local reporter but based on a News Ltd handout, the forced sale of the country’s oldest newspaper has been remarkably under reported.Fiji Times's future. No serious analysis, no editorials and certainly no backgrounder. Another sign of the times post-censorship. "
It is natural to be concerned and to suspect the worst about the future in troubled times, but I'll wait until Motibhai announced the new publisher and, presumably, the fate of editor Netani Rika. We will then have a better sense of where things might be heading.
PER AND THE FIJI TIMES. Changing Times has left a new comment on your post "Rumours, PER, Commonwealth Games, Chinese & Thai ...":
Re any lifting of the PER: The regime has always said it's conditional on a change of behavior at the Fiji Times so let's see precisely what Mac Patel is planning to do with the paper. We'll have a better idea on Wednesday, when he names the new publisher. If it's someone with close ties to News Limited, you can expect the same problems to continue. Because central to a better relationship with government is the removal of the FT's current senior editorial team and especially Netani Rika. If Patel can demonstrate to the regime that the bomb throwers at the FT are gone, it's far more likely that the PER will be lifted, or at least the media restrictions component of the decree.
I can understand many people taking Rika's side in this long-festering stand-off and it's a shame he has to go. But you just can't begrudge the country's leader the title of prime minister in your editorial pages and expect anything else but trouble. When that's coupled with an explicit threat by Rika to eventually publish 2000 stories that the censors have banned, then it's clear his position has been untenable for a long time.
Let's face it. From a reader's point of view, the Fiji Times has been way off the mark all through the turbulent years of Rika's stewardship. The wonder of it all is that successive Fiji Times publishers sent from Sydney allowed things to deteriorate so badly. Not only did they fail to properly manage the relationship with government, they allowed editorial standards to slip. Yes, media freedom is important but the first rule is that newspapers exist primarily for their readers. For Netani Rika, it seems to have been all about him and what he wanted for the country, not about us. Please give us a good read first and foremost, Mr Patel, and make the FT worthy of its rich history and a paper Fiji can be proud of again.
CONTINUING DIALOGUE ON VILLAGE BYLAWS. The Itaukei Affairs Board has prepared an amended draft on the proposed village bylaws which include submissions from the 14 provinces. A workshop will be held next month involving all government departments and NGOs that work closely with Itaukei Affairs. The outcome of the workshop will then be sent back to the 14 provinces for further deliberations and consultation with district representatives. A further draft will then be prepared. The Board has ruled out a recommendation that village leaders be allowed to cane children.