The Truth as Michael Field Sees it: his FRU Article
|Pinocchio 's nose--see below*|
In March last year I took journalist Michael Field to task for his total misrepresentation of the Crimes Decree, then recently introduced in Fiji, and before that for an article that had typhoid threatening Fiji’s major tourist destination, when it was confined to a remote inland area over 50 kilometres away. It is time to take him to task again, not because this is the first time in a year that he has transgressed, far from it, but because it is necessary once in a while to remind readers of his prominent role in misinforming the NZ media and public.
In an article this week , Field makes three important errors of fact in his report on the Fiji Rugby Union, if indeed they were errors. Here they are, with my comments:
First, he claimed the “Fiji's military have taken control of the country's rugby union and in their first move have announced they are to seek forgiveness from dictator Voreqe Bainimarama for causing him trouble. ”
Croz: Rugby, even more than in New Zealand, is a national obsession in Fiji and many players are or were in the military — but the military has not taken control of the FRU. Rabuka and Bainimarama were former presidents and the Board has no more military people on the Board than it usually does. The forgiveness he refers to is matanigasau, a formal traditional Fijian means of apology and reconciliation. It does not translate well into English but Field could have offered some explanation. The apology will be about FRU mismanagement, not about causing Bainimarama trouble.
Secondly, he said the “Bainimarama's regime forced the old FRU board out of office and refused to give them F$3 million (NZ$2.1 million) to fund their trip to the World Cup.”
Croz: The Board was not forced out but Bainimarama made it clear that public money would not be forthcoming if the old Board remained. A special general meeting decided a new board should be elected. The old CEO, who was largely responsible for the misuse of funds and a flawed lottery, resigned. The process was approved by the International Rugby Board. Field failed to explain why Bainimarama took this position even though most people would agree he was justifiably concerned about the FRU misuse of public money. See my earlier postings on the misuse of money donated for other purposes and the disastrous lottery fiasco. By not mentioning the misuse of money and the flawed lottery, Field makes it seem that Bainimarama’s action was personally or politically motivated and had nothing to do the FRU Board’s irregular bookkeeping.
Thirdly, he said “when the International Rugby Board threatened to intervene as the military pressured the FRU, Fiji's rugby unions went through an attempt to elect a democratic board, but still ended up with the land force commander running it.”
Croz: This is just not true. The Board was elected —and the Chairman was elected by the Board — in the usual way. It was no more, and no less, democratically elected than any other former Board as I showed in the posting cited below. Field not only failed to report this; he must have known it to be the case. Neither did he report that the IRB has not questioned the legitimacy of the new Board.
For the record, here is what I wrote on 2 May:
The newly elected Board comprises nine members: military (2), police (1), civil servant (1), lawyer (1), former SDL Cabinet Minister (1), accountant (1), businessman (1), and a former MP (1). A former SDL Cabinet Minister, Ilaitia Tuisesi, was elected Union chairman and a former SDL MP, Ratu Isakeli Tasere, was elected president. Tuisesi later denied he had been elected chairman. It was just (another!) rumour; the decision has not yet been made.
Outgoing FRU chairman Viliame Gavoka said for the sake of a sport that is loved and followed by the general public, the newly elected board should ensure the mistakes of 2010 are not repeated.
The media and blogs chose to highlight military and police representation — and chose not to mention that two Board members were former members of the ousted Qarase government. It looks like a pretty balanced Board to me. Can’t say the same about the reporting.
In my opinion, the integrity of the media becomes suspect when Field is allowed by Fairfax Media to publish opinion pieces as if they were fact. His FRU article is a polemic; not a news item. Fairfax Media and its editors surely have a responsibility to the public to check on the credibility and accuracy of stories, especially when political or other bias may be present. Its readers, with no knowledge of Field’s background, would reasonably assume they were reading a fair, balanced and accurate account of events. Which they were not.
But it doesn’t stop there
The article continued, as Field’s always do, with a repetition of older news: the detentions of Pita Driti and David Uluilakeba Mara, and, at greater length, the circulation of the anti-government DVD produced by Australian-based Suliasi Daunitutu who he called “something of a traditional storyteller.” Really! Daunitutu is an SDL-supporter who arranged the distribution of his DVD through the SDL office in Suva.
Field, who in an earlier article, saw today’s divided Fiji as a tribal feud between Polynesian Lau and Melanesian Bau (I really can’t believe this!) said Daunitutu was “winning a big indigenous rural audience by engaging in coded anti-Indian talk. Indians … support Bainimarama.”
He has absolutely no way of knowing about the level of indigenous rural support and many prominent Indo-Fijians — Wadan Narsey, Biman Prasad, Mahendra Chaudhry, Shamima Ali, and Attar Singh come immediately to mind— are opposed to the Bainimarama government.
* Pinocchio was a wooden puppet who wanted to be a boy. His nose grew each time he did not tell the truth.