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.
. 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.

. 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.


media decree said…
Media Decree

The PM and government desire acceptance but they must earn it.

That meeting fullfilling basic promises as a starting point.

If this is not done why should we believe any promise including the far off 2014 election.

We are told the media decree is up and running so any talk of the PER having to stay in place just because of the Fiji Times is just rubbish. The PM promised it would be removed and it has not. It is not just the people of Fiji but also the UN and International community this promise was made to. If is not lifted in the next week or so we can guess the military, pm and coup supporters are not at all serious about their stated aims.
Rumors said…
Crazy truthless rumors just won't go away. Here is a few of the hard to believe ones going around...

1. PM and AG have been arrested
2. Uprising is about to happen
3. SDL where good for Fiji
4. Current PM actually believes in democracy
5. PM is serious about free and fair elections in 2014
6. The PER will be lifted
7. James Akoy is working for Fiji and not himself in China
8. Sugar minister can explain the sugar industry
9. Croz is on the military payrole
10. Economy is improving
11. Courts are indepentant
12. Suva is crime free
13. Military personel are the best people for all senior government appointments including police
14. Natadola meeting meant something

Have a laugh at all these sensless rumours....move on.
per makes for lazy government said…
Utter rubbish. If the PER is not lifted the reaosn will be simply the PM and his team do not have the will to do so.

Quite frnakly life for the PM and his team is way to comfortable with the PER in place. They can crush all oppopsitio and silence even the most reasonable comment. They have created a reality they long desired - everyone they do is good and right. Only problem is tjayt reality only exists in their minds.
Pongea world said…
Don't worry about the PER. The gold is coming! The GOLD IS COMING!!!
Radiolucas said…
Even if the PER is lifted, the goal of removing open criticism of the government has been attained. The problem the military regime now faces is the internet - they cannot effectively censor the blogs - so what they have done is remove sensible media coverage (and I don't agree with all the whining about the FT's so-called "bias") and replaced it with rumour.

A vibrant and free media is the backbone to good government and accountability.

They should all be clapping themselves on the back for this one - now it is certain that no overseas government is going to listen to what the Fiji media has to say and the government looks more and more suspect to both the international community and to investors because of what they have done.
Imprimatur said…
@ radiolucas.....

Not only a "vibrant and free media" but surely one with some intelligence and class? Rest assured that Dallas Swinstead will provide this: more than just provide. Both he and his brother, Gene, have served the Fiji Times in Fiji before. They are very experienced editors. They are well educated in every sense of the word and they are 'hommes du monde': Men of the World. Now we may breathe a sigh of relief, we profoundly trust and the Fiji Times personnel at all levels will receive the tutelage and mentoring they justly deserve.
Radiolucas said…
@ Imprimatur

Sounds great - but how does this help a free media? The publisher will still face the same draconian restrictions - meaning that the military regime cannot be held accountable for anything that they say, think or do. I am not sure what sort of mentoring could possibly assist in these circumstances. Perhaps it will be something like this: (1) receive govt approved bulletin (2) cursory glance at bulletin, fix obvious spelling errors and grammar, (3) publish govt approved bulletin, (4) make no comment for fear of prosecution.
A new media paradigm said…
Radio Lucas, I personally don't think the regime wants to micro-manage the media. They want the media to stop fixating on power plays and racial politics and reflect the concerns of ordinary people. Whether you call it "development journalism" or the "journalism of hope", I think a lot of people in Fiji are looking for better coverage of bread and butter issues and inspirational stories of ordinary people triumphing over adversity in education and other fields. I think a strong case can be made that the media in Fiji have accentuated our differences rather than seeing themselves as partners in developing a tolerant, multiracial nation. Whether you like it or not, Fiji is not Australia, NZ or the other western democracies with strong institutions and a high degree of social cohesion. It's much more like a Singapore, where the media is obliged to avoid accentuating political and racial division and has a role in keeping the whole leaky ship of state on course. This doesn't mean governments being in newsrooms crossing the t's and dotting the i's. It means publishers and editors recognising their limits and responsibilities in a developing country and behaving accordingly. I don't call that censorship. I call it nation building. When we've done that successfully is when - like Singapore now - we can start entertaining the notion of media freedom as an absolute principle. But as things stand, it's a luxury Fiji can't afford - our institutions too weak, the country too divided, much of the population too easily manipulated.
Anonymous said…

It continually occurs to me that too many of us appear not to know what is required of a competent media and those who contribute to it. A professional and experienced Editor will know what is require of himself/herself within any given context. Do you consider for one moment that the newly appointed Publisher of the Fiji Times (who has lived and worked in Fiji before and whose work many of us are familiar with) would have taken on such a role without clearly and intelligently doing a due diligence and deciding upon that exercise? Had Mr Swinstead been in place in the past fifteen years, we might have avoided a whole lot of hell. In lieu, we were obliged to put up with ignorance and incompetence. We want a newspaper of the erstwhile reputation of the Fiji Times to tell us, for instance:

What can be expected of the Global Economy and its immediate challenges

How this will impinge on the Fiji economy at any given time

What is the daily price of gold - and where it is headed next

How Fiji-produced commodities will fare in the coming weeks/months

Where we may go to achieve all the daily demands of this State of Transition - and why we must.

Perhaps an honest discussion or analysis of why these daily demands have become essential to a changing economic and socio/cultural landscape. Are they 'wholesale' or better to be 'piecemeal'? A fundamental argument about social engineering since the 1980s.

None of this has been attempted to date. We are obliged to 'go off-shore' at considerable inconvenience and then it is mostly all negativity. No recognition that the UK, Russia, China, New Zealand and now even Cuba have all had to undergo reforms of one painful kind or another in the past thirty years. More reforms are now required in financial regulation worldwide to avoid any double dip slip. We must be told why and how these will shape our future, here on the ground in Fiji. So that we are enabled and empowered (yes, no less than empowered) to help ourselves, our families and our country.
Anonymous said…
On the former stewardship of the Fiji Times.......

The deterioration at the Fiji Times might now and will be seen henceforth as a metaphor for the deteriorating state of the entire nation of Fiji, its institutions, its judicial processes, its application of the Rule of Law. As demonstrated by the ever encroaching failure to remove bias, to cut out censorship imposed by political demands (and nothing else), over a period of five years in particular things slid into the abyss. Impunity was encouraged, lawlessness and brutality visited upon people in their own homes, women and children suffered from increasing violence and rape. Almost nothing was said of this in the Fiji Times from 2001. No analysis was made of this terrifying phenomenon. The Fiji Police Force was deliberately under-resourced as was the Prisons Service. Not a word was written about galloping and obvious corruption: personal, governmental and corporate. The Legal Profession was never challenged in the Fiji Times - not once. Neither were the Court Officials and Registries: the people and the areas of the most severe corruption because the impact of it was immediate. Women and children were deprived of maintenance money: greedy court officials stole even from them. Nothing whatsoever was reported about this in the pages of the Fiji Times Newspaper. There is much now to regain and to correct. The turn-around must be in depth and at every level. We need to know what we have been through. We need to read the judgements delivered in our Courts and to know of the evidence leading to convictions of those who have preyed upon us all for so very long. No fear nor favour must be shown in any direction at any time. The Truth must out - and that takes conviction and courage. Never again may the Fiji Times deliberately cull the views of citizens because some weird, individual animosity has crept in. What precisely is that? Censorship in reverse?

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