The Foreign Media's Coverage of Fiji: Past and Present

Graham Davis's address to the Fiji Literary Festival, Nadi, October 2 – 9, 2011

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. Ni sa bula vinaka, namaste, good morning.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you at this media component of a landmark event in the cultural life of the nation- the inaugural Fiji Literary Festival.

Let me stress from the outset that unlike some of the offerings here, this is not an academic paper but a series of personal reflections – some highly subjective – that aren’t designed for peer review.

It’s also less about the Fiji media than of media coverage of Fiji, the way the country is portrayed in a myopic fashion that’s often highly damaging to the country’s interests.

Thank you, Satendra Nandan, for your invitation and overly generous introduction.

For me, your own presence here is a cause for immense satisfaction coupled with a degree of sadness as I reflect on the last time we met face to face.

It was before the cameras in a Suva hotel room in April 1987, just after you’d been appointed a minister in the short-lived government of Timoci Bavadra – the best prime minister Fiji never had.

You were full of hope for a new era, a peaceful transition from the patrician Mara years to a country that put more emphasis on social justice and charted a more independent course.

Yet barely three weeks later, you and the rest of that government were removed at gunpoint… democracy had failed its first real test in Fiji.

How tragic that the intervening years have been the lost years - the great hopes of a multiracial economic powerhouse laid waste, along with the notion of Fiji as “the way the world should be”, a beacon of success for its island neighbours.

We became not the Singapore of the South Seas but a second rate nation mired in racial conflict and wracked by self interest, petty squabbling, false piety and corruption.

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since that dark May day and Fiji is still struggling to find its feet.

In their despair, so many members of your own community abandoned the country altogether for better lives elsewhere…those who forced them out too shortsighted to realise they were losing some of the brightest and best.

But you returned after what must have been a period of intense soul searching in Australia as you came to terms with your own life uprooted at the point of a gun.

As we gather this week in your home town, you deserve great credit for keeping the faith and for organising this event, which is a vote of confidence not just in the country’s writers but in the people of Fiji and their future.

You and your committee are providing brain food to make us think…to fire our imaginations with the notion that Fiji can get more of its stories told….and to inspire us with the idea that words – as well as deeds - are the building blocks of successful nations.

I’m acutely aware of how irritating it can be to have an outsider like me parachute into an event like this and offer a string of gratuitous observations on aspects of national life.

So before your hackles are raised – and doubtless they will be soon enough - let’s talk about something on which we can all agree …that this event is a cause for celebration.

There are precious few literary works on contemporary life in Fiji and precious few writers to do our stories justice.

We hope that this week is the spark that ignites a firestorm of local creativity, that encourages existing writers to new heights and inspires others to join their ranks.

To the writers among us today, can i simply say – you’re valued not just because of your individual talents and achievements but because you give voice to the ideals and aspirations of a nation.

You speak not just for yourselves but for all Fijians, helping to explain the nation to itself and reflecting crucial aspects of its way of life now and for all time.

Writers often have to treat poverty as a friend.

But they do have the luxury of longevity, whether it’s on the printed page or electronic innovations like the Kindle.

However hard it is to carve out a living in the present, your efforts endure into the future, your work can still have currency and meaning long after you’ve gone.

This is the real power of the written word - not just to move people and forge opinions in our own time but to convey those stories to succeeding generations, and become part of a collective history.

Most journalism – of course – isn’t great literature, though it’s often said that journalism – at its finest - is the first draft of history.

While your average journalist may not possess the literary skills of an accomplished author, he or she is nevertheless part of a vital process, making sense of the everyday and giving it context.

Good journalism -like good literature - requires good story telling skills – structure , the appropriate use of language, the ability to engage, to inform and entertain.

People often ask me – what makes a good story? And they’re startled when i say – ‘simple really – a plausible beginning, middle and end” with some twists and turns, light and shade and troughs and peaks along the way.

Good journalism requires, above all, judgment and integrity – skills that really can’t be taught , even in the finest journalism schools.

You can learn the practical skills of journalism – the mechanics of story telling - and the theory – such as why journalists are important to how any society functions.

But judgment and integrity well from the individual – are determined by a person’s character, are honed by experience – and are what ultimately distinguishes good journalism from bad.

Judgment and integrity are the qualities that make journalists respect the facts, the confidences of those who give them information, strive to be balanced and fair, give their stories context and polish and re-polish them – however tight their deadlines - to get them as close as possible to an adequate facsimile of the truth.
And I say facsimile because journalism is the most imprecise of arts, not least because one person’s truth can be another person’s falsehood.

You can, however, strive to have integrity and judgment.

So let’s just talk about this in the Fiji context, as seen by someone like myself…born here and a former citizen, having reported local events but who’s spent a lifetime in the foreign media, on the outside looking in.

And what a picture Fiji presents right now – an entire country hostage to the premise of one person’s truth being another person’s falsehood.

So much of what is said about Fiji in the international media is woefully short of integrity or judgment.

Indeed, we live in a truly parallel universe when it comes to media coverage ….alleged versions of the truth so polarised that your ordinary reader, viewer or listener can be excused for having no idea what to believe.

Never mind your average person with only a passing interest in the country. Even so-called experts have trouble working out who’s right and who’s wrong, such is the deluge of misinformation on Fiji masquerading as fact.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a country with such a high level of political turmoil in recent years has so many people with agendas to push and stories to plant.

But what disturbs me is that so many of my fellow journalists seem willing to embrace those agendas and portray the country in a way vastly at odds with reality.

By some accounts – Fiji is governed by a local version of Saddam Hussein …a brutal dictator who tortures his opponents and pays himself multiple salaries while his people drift further into poverty.

The flip side to this narrative is that Fiji is governed by a dogged reformer, who is fighting corruption and injustice, addressing decades of infrastructure and legislative neglect and creating a level playing field for all citizens leading to genuine democracy for the first time.

Which version gets told the most? Which is the prevailing orthodoxy on events in fiji? Bainimarama, the torturer or Bainimarama the reformer ?

On the evidence, demonising the dictator is the dominant narrative of much of the regional media, and especially a clique of so-called Pacific specialists in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s the story they not only believe - because their partisan sources tell them so, hand on heart – but the one they instinctively want to tell because it reflects their own values.

Yes, -they say -we know there are complicating factors in Fiji but these are beside the point.

The 2006 coup removed a legitimately elected government and democracy must be restored immediately…no ifs, buts or maybes.

Never mind that democracy – Fiji style - would be something totally unacceptable in their own countries – not one man, one vote but a bastardised version based on race

Never mind that democracy – Fiji style – was being used by the majority race to disadvantage the rest.

Never mind that democracy – Fiji style – was set to free those who’d destroyed democracy six years before.

Never mind the corruption and mismanagement that had leached into almost every corner of national life.

For much of the regional media, these are inconvenient punctuation marks that can be left out of the Fiji narrative because they get in the way of the bigger story they want to tell….the struggle between good and evil –the so-called pro-democracy movement versus the Fiji military.

I say “so called” because – in my view - this is much less about democracy for many of these people than it is about restoring the old order in Fiji – of privilege and the spoils that came with it.

Take the case of Roko Ului – Ratu Tevita Mara – who’s been embraced by much of the regional media as someone who’s seen the light, acknowledged that the 2006 coup was wrong, and now preaches “thumbs up for democracy”.

Do they ask him why his meetings abroad attract so few people ? A few dozen at most when there are 40-thousand Fijians in Australia alone?

Do they ask him what’s democratic about one of his key platforms - restoring the power and influence of his hereditary peers in the Great Council of Chiefs?

Do they ask him to explain the lurid events – professional and personal – that evidently provoked the breach with his former comrades?

Do they ask him why so much of his rhetoric is crude racial dog whistling- how a cunning and ambitious attorney general is manipulating his gullible and stupid prime minister?

There’s not nearly enough scrutiny of Roko Ului from the media or, -for that matter - the Tongans and Samoans in the Mara glee club.

The same lack of scrutiny applies to Laisenia Qarase, feted by much of the overseas media as a benevolent, bespectacled hero – the democratically elected leader sorely wronged by the strutting military chief who frog marched him from office.

Is there ever any serious examination of what really happened in 2006? Anything that’s remotely dispassionate, that owes more to reason than the howls from the dispossessed?

Is there possibly another side to this story aside from what we constantly hear from a handful of media figures with axes to grind because they were obliged, for one reason or another, to leave Fiji?

Why does the human rights lobby seem more concerned with the rights of a handful of individuals – however ill treated they may have been – than the rights of hundreds of thousands of their increasingly marginalised fellow citizens?

If any journalist bothered to dig deeper, they’d have found a much more complicated story than the one the regime’s critics are ever eager to tell.

There was little democratic about the SDL. As it’s name suggested, it stood for the advancement of one race and one race alone, contained ministers who’d played key roles in the disastrous events of 2000 and who set about in government trying to entrench indigenous rights.

All this happened under a constitution that astonishingly, people still defend, even though it failed to meet even the most basic tenet of a true democracy – a level playing field with votes of equal value.

Do foreign journalists ever bother to examine that? Or delve into the history of Fiji and its tortured progress over the past half century?

The truth – if they bothered to uncover it – is that Fiji has never been a democratic country in the accepted sense.

And we all know why… because one person, one vote wasn’t possible while Indo-Fijians outnumbered the Taukei.

What we had instead was a fragile consensus among all races that indigenous Fijians needed to feel secure in their own land. The price for stability was to forgo democracy in its purist form.

All that has changed. After the mass exodus of Indo-Fijians in the wake of the 1987 and 2000 coups, any reason for indigenous insecurity evaporated and with it, any valid justification not to have one person, one vote.

Was Fiji’s brand of democracy capable – as the critics argue - of evolving into a true democracy on its own? It’s extremely doubtful when you look at the record of the SDL.

Because far from placating the concerns of ordinary Taukei and carrying them forward, they manipulated them for their own ends, convincing them that even if many kai idia had gone, they still weren’t secure in the vanua.

This was an unforgivable lapse of leadership by the indigenous elite.

And it was compounded by a blatant attempt - through their legislative program - to use their numbers to drive other Fiji citizens further into the margins of national life.

The notion that non-indigenous Fijians should pay for the use of coastal resources when they’re already excluded from owning more than 80 per cent of the land is indefensible.

The other races might have grudgingly accepted that their votes were worth less -and the indignity of being branded vulagi or visitors – but not this….not only deprived of equal rights but treated as cash cows in their country of birth.

Compounding this provocation was the plan to free George Speight and his gang... Rewarding treason…and the threat to alter existing land title.

40 per cent of the country looked on helplessly as some of their remaining rights looked set to be trampled.

Enter the enraged military chief, who warned Qarase to back off. He didn’t and we all know the rest.

I believe that rushing back to elections under the 1997 Constitution would have just meant more of the same – the tyranny of an ethno-nationalist form of democracy, interrupted every few years by another coup and another constitution.

Fiji’s Roadmap to Democracy, like New Caledonia’s Noumea Accord, gives the country the time it needs to work things out.

This is not a paean of praise for the current prime minister or the government he leads. While I think both have done remarkably well given the odds stacked against them, I have reservations about the heavy-handed treatment of the unions and the Methodist Church and the way in which regime opponents get taken to the barracks and what might happen there.

Nevertheless, it’s infuriating to see the SDL and its foreign supporters so successfully manipulating the foreign media, casting themselves as innocent victims and urging Australia and New Zealand to step up their sanctions against Fiji.

They call themselves the Fiji Freedom and Democracy Movement, a beguiling title for your average wide-eyed Aussie or Kiwi journo.

These journalists have neither the wit nor the inclination to delve into the shady pasts of some of these individuals, to discover that the freedom they advocate is for the likes of the Qaranivalu and George Speight, the democracy they advocate is, in fact, the tyranny of the majority, the entrenchment of indigenous rights.

I sparked a cyber furor a few weeks ago by seizing on a photograph – taken at one of Roko Ului’s rallies - of Simione Kaitani – one of the principal figures of the 2000 coup – in the company of historian Brij Lal and his fellow academic Jon Fraenkel.

I’ve sought an explanation as to why these two prominent academics were in the company of one of the coup makers of 2000, who went on, of course, to be a minister in Laisenia Qarase’s government. They still haven’t responded.

Why is it important? Because Brij Lal and Jon Fraenkel have been the commentators of choice on matters pertaining to FIji in the Australian media. And are unfailingly critical of Frank Bainimarama and his government.

What motivates that criticism? Does it come from a learned, scholarly, dispassionate examination of the facts, which is the expectation of editors and program makers who seek their opinions?

Patently not. Because these two gentlemen took it upon themselves to write Tevita Mara’s ten point manifesto – that includes bringing the GCC and the Methodist church back to the centre of national life - all the while allowing themselves to be portrayed as independent commentators.

They’re not, they’re partisan players in the Fiji saga and media consumers deserve to know that.

Jon Fraenkel has been especially zealous in branding me a coup supporter or a Bainimarama supporter when I’ve made it clear that it’s the prime minister’s multiracial agenda that I support.

But he’s also tried to discredit fellow academics who disagree with him, notably Richard Herr, who many of you will know as adjunct professor at the University of Fiji.

Our crime – in Fraenkel’s eyes – is to urge Australia and New Zealand to re-engage with Fiji to assist in the return to democracy. He attacked the Lowy institute for doing the same.

Never mind that sanctions haven’t worked, never mind that Australia and New Zealand are being left behind as Fiji forges other relationships… any re-engagement would represent a defeat for Jon Fraenkel and those around him. It’s not based on good policy but personal prejudice.

So we have this unholy alliance of partisan academics, deposed politicians and their acolytes, disgruntled former soldiers, 2000 coup makers, human rights advocates and their journalist sympathisers, all trying to keep Fiji out in the cold.

In Australia, these people have the ear of the foreign policy establishment and the journalists who take their cue from Australia Inc,

They bark for the masters who feed them – whether it’s access to information – the journalistic drip - or in the case of the public broadcasters, salaries and career paths.

Occasionally, something positive gets through. But even journalists who are fiercely independent on every other subject seem consistently unwilling to say anything good about the new order in Fiji – to report the flip side of the “Commodore Nasty” story.

Of course, they were quick to report that Fiji was in dire economic straights, and that it would be only a matter of time before the country was brought to its knees.

Do an internet search and that’s still the prevailing narrative.

Those who forecast economic collapse can’t bring themselves to report that the economy has stabilised, foreign reserves are rising by the month, and Fiji’s projected growth for the coming year is the same as it was in the last year of the SDL government.

We were also incessantly informed that Fiji was a pariah nation - suspended by the Commonwealth and the Pacific Forum -and destined to stay out in the cold until it saw the light.

The smug journalistic collective can’t bring itself to report that Fiji has successfully circumvented that ostracism, not just in the region through its chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, but beyond.

It’s organised the small island states into a formal voting bloc at the United Nations, joined the Non Aligned Movement, established formal relations with a string of countries and continues to be a global player through its valued contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts. Some pariah.

We witnessed the delicious irony last week of Fiji’s UN ambassador Peter Thomson chairing the general assembly session at which New Zealand made its formal address. Some isolation.

These, of course, are journalistic sins of omission. Those sins of commission are worse – and include blatant misrepresentation of the truth and blithe acceptance of the most outrageous claims of Fiji’s critics.

How often do we hear the Fiji government being accused of torture? It’s happened again this week from no less a figure than the head of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, who equated torture in Fiji with torture in Syria and Yemen.

Hello? What planet does this guy live on? Hundreds of people have been killed by the authorities in Syria and Yemen in recent months and thousands tortured.
Can it be that this is happening up at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks without our knowledge?

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic from a global watchdog of statue - as laughable as Shetty’s prediction of a popular uprising in Fiji like those in North Africa and the Middle East.

He obviously hasn’t seen the recent Lowy Institute poll that gives the Fiji government overwhelming public support.

Or perhaps he’s been talking to Australia’s moronic Pacific Islands minister, Richard Marles, who says people were too scared to say what they really think.

We know that even that great democracy – the United States – employs torture in the form of waterboarding, in which water is repeatedly poured over someone’s face to simulate the experience of drowning.

What’s the local equivalent in fiji? Being hit by a bottle of
Fiji Water? Being forced to run around the rara. We know the buturaki is alive and well in Fiji and always has been.

It cannot be excused but this is not state sponsored torture in the accepted sense – a methodical process to extract information or punish.

And yet the term is bandied around as if it’s established fact.

The other day, the Australian media accepted without question Kenneth Zinck’s claim that he’d been tortured. Not one journalist said – “well precisely how, Mr Zinck? What did they do to you?” No judgment. No integrity.

They also accepted without question the former SDL minister’s claim that he’d fled Fiji in haste after a car chase and needed asylum from the brutal dictatorship. No one said “but what about the airport watch list? Or your multiple entry visa for Australia and multiple previous visits? Or the fact that it’s nearly five years since you were removed from office?”

Pictured with his Brisbane relatives grinning from ear to ear, it wasn’t Kenneth Zinck who’d been tortured but the truth.

And all this from the mainstream media, supposedly the most trustworthy source of information.

Turn to cyberspace for news on Fiji and you’re often assailed by the bizarre and appalling, like the travesties peddled by the so-called journalists on the principal anti-regime blog - Coup Four Point Five.

Where it’s based and who’s behind it, the reader isn’t told.

Some contributors – like Victor Lal and Waden Narsey – have bylines and a degree of respectability.

But most postings on Fourpointfive are anonymous and from under that cloak comes a multitude of journalistic howlers.

It also turns a blind eye to the most appalling racism in its comments section. Indo Fijians are cast as mynahs or mongooses – presumably imported pests – or “useless skinny little Indians “, the prime minister is “the Baini.”, the Indian puppet.

Anyone who dares to express an alternative view is routinely censored. Their comment doesn’t get past the gatekeeper.

How ironic when these are the very people screaming to the rafters about censorship in Fiji. Coming from so-called journalists campaigning for a free media, it’s hypocrisy of the first order.

Incredibly, Four Point Five is sometimes cited as a source of credible information in the mainstream media.

Some foreign journalists seem to be impressed with a website that breathlessly revealed last September that Christmas had come early. Frank Bainimarama had been arrested and the government deposed. We’re still waiting.

There are so many furphies on four point five it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s examine one of the latest this week, alleging that the prime minister and attorney general are in the pocket of the Chinese.

Quote -“the pair are getting 50-million dollars in cuts from the Gold Century loan . Those in the know also insist Bainimarama and Khaiyum have almost 30-million dollars in offshore accounts, distributed in Hong Kong ,Malaysia and Dubai.”

So that’s how the attorney general can afford those new sunglasses he’s trying on in the latest photograph on Four Point Five.

And what’s the source of this information? Quote – “ coup four point five is unable to verify these figures at this stage and can only say sources have been proven to be right in the past on this sort of information” unquote.

Incredible. Do these so called journalists really think we’re that stupid?

The same article went on to – quote - “sound the alarm about Bainimarama giving Chinese contractors army land to build a shop in Bay View when they are, in fact, Chinese army guys establishing a base in the Pacific under the dictator’s nose”.

“The Chinese vice president comes to oversee the development of the mini Chinese state that is Fiji…Fiji is its conquest.”…etcetera, etcetera,…blah blah blah.

Thank God for a competing voice of reason in cyberspace in the form of a courtly New Zealander – a scholar and a gentleman - who I regard as a media hero.

Anyone seeking the truth on Fiji has no finer guide than Crosbie Walsh – the former USP academic - and his website - Fiji the way it was, is and could be.

What began as a hobby for Croz in his retirement has become the finest daily resource on the country, covering everything from politics to social trends.

He’s a stickler for accuracy, has a refined bulldust detector and is utterly fearless.

While he terms himself a moderate and declares a basic sympathy for the government’s program, he‘s not afraid to criticise and has been a vocal opponent of its current crackdown on the unions.

Croz and another New Zealander known to many of you – professor David Robie of the Auckland University of Technology – are genuine Fiji experts with both judgment and integrity but are shunned by the mainstream New Zealand media.

Why? Because they don’t comply with the dominant narrative of the ugly dictatorship.

Their commentary strikes a discordantly positive note in the chorus of condemnation conducted by the likes of Fairfax Media’s Michael Field and Barbara Dreaver of Television new Zealand.

It happens in Australia too – censorship by the mainstream media that excludes dissenting voices – not banning views already expressed but making sure they’re not expressed in the first place.

Which leads me to censorship in Fiji.

However much the government argues that censorship is necessary to maintain public order, to prevent its opponents from inciting trouble, no journalist or writer can – in all conscience – support it.

Free expression is our stock in trade. Cripple it, restrict it, and our stories aren’t the full story -a pale imitation of the truth. We’re in a straightjacket, unable to fulfill our ultimate obligation to fully inform.

Nearly five years after the coup, I believe the government can afford to lift the censorship provisions of the Public Emergency Regulations and I appeal to it to do so.

Keep the other provisions in place if necessary but loosen the shackles of free expression in the three years leading up to the election you’ve promised in 2014.

When I say you can afford to do it, I think the Lowy poll is proof enough that most ordinary people in Fiji - a remarkable two thirds -support the government’s efforts.

Australia’s Pacific Minister says they were too scared to say otherwise, Pofessor Narsey says they were too uneducated to understand the questions. What elitist nonsense.

The Lowy Institute stands by its findings and says this was the genuine voice of ordinary people in Fiji.

They aren’t stupid, they can tell a good government from a bad one, so do them the honour of respecting their intelligence by restoring their voice fully in the local media.

More than anything else, lifting censorship will send a message to the international community that the reform process is genuine and the lead-up to 2014 will be marked by free and frank debate, the cornerstone of democracy.

Regional governments are looking for signs of progress. Give it to them.

I’m not going to insult my fellow journalists in Fiji with a gratuitous examination of why censorship was imposed in the first place.

But doubtless lessons have been learned, a lot of them extremely painful, as some of Fiji’s most talented journalists have been obliged to find jobs elsewhere.

Even in mature democracies like Australia, media freedom isn’t absolute.

We’ve just seen a prominent columnist dragged before the courts for daring to question whether light skinned aborigines are real aborigines. Remarkably, the judge also ruled that what he wrote can never be re-published.

And democracy and free expression doesn’t guarantee progress. Just ask the people of Papua New Guinea. It hasn’t saved them from a bunch of self-serving politicians who’ve been likened to the Mafia.

Clearly, the Fiji media can’t merely revert to how it operated before the government stepped in. So what’s the way forward?

The answer – how to achieve the right balance between rights and responsibilities - must come from within.

Fiji is lucky to have some inspirational teachers of journalism and I’d like to single out one of them, Shailendra Singh from USP, a man I haven’t met but one I’ve grown to admire.

A former working journalist himself, he’s urging journalists to examine what they do in a new light, to call on their judgment and integrity to take the practice of local and regional journalism to new heights.

I want to pay tribute to Shailendra Singh for having the courage to point out that journalistic freedom in the Fiji context is very different from the rough and tumble of journalistic practice in mature democracies like Australia and New Zealand.

It carries with it far more responsibility to ensure social cohesion, avoid excessive tension and division, and regard journalism as a vital cornerstone in nation building.

Some time ago, Shailendra called for more developmental journalism, such as covering the success stories of ordinary people, as opposed to what he depicted as the local media’s obsession with politics and divisiveness.

He’s recently called for journalists to direct more attention to stories that help alleviate poverty, and God knows the poor in Fiji need both attention and inspiration.

Whatever you call it – the journalism of hope or just a self evident obligation in a developing country to assist in nation building and give the disadvantaged a voice – surely this is a better way forward for the Fiji media than the confrontational model of the past.

The critics may not like it but is there any other way forward for a country with acute racial, political and social divisions and where the concept of democracy is yet to fully take root?

I’m ending with a question, not a statement, because I think this is a debate we have to have and there are better minds in this room capable of providing some answers.
Vinaka vakalevu for listening and now it’s over to you for comments or questions.


Charles Singh said…
Great presentation Graham - if this does not open the eyes of the myopic international media, nothing will.

Graham and Crosbie are the most astute observers of events in Fiji. They know what is really happening better than any parachute journo or Johnny come lately academic such as Fraenkal.

Most Aussies and Kiwis, including journos, have this warm, fuzzy image of ethnic Fijians because of their rugby prowess or made-for-tourism brochure smiling faces.

These people know Fijians primarily through the Super 14, the NRL,or as smiling hotel workers they met on their Fiji holiday.

Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, do not play rugby and are not featured on the tourism brochures.

Indo-Fijians are demonized and stereotyped by the media as the rich business and professional class who are demanding and greedy.

As a result, may Aussies and Kiwis, including their journalists, feel this urge to protect indigenous Fijians from the evil Indians (I call it the clucking mother hen syndrome - you see it in the Mark Mannings and Fraekals of this world.

It never fails to amaze me how the Mannings and Fraekals are quick to jump to the so-called defence of Fijians (who are quite capable of looking after themselves) but say nothing about the situation in their own backyards regarding the Moaris and Aborigines.

This two peoples are in much worse situation than Fijians (who many, including some native Fijians, argue have been molly-coddled to such an extent it has stunted their progress!).

Davis and Walsh are not so naive. The do not buy into the stereotypes, having lived and worked in Fiji.

They do not have this naive, paternalistic and insulting 'noble savage' view of native Fijians, who, like us all, are ordinary mortals and face the pressures of the modern world.

Graham and Crosbie understand that landless Indians are the poorest of the poor in Fiji, living in terrible conditions, and subject to state discrimination.

Indians have progressed because they worked their butts off. Their success did not come overnight, but is due to one generation after another making sacrifices so that the next generation can have a better life.

Davis and Walsh are conscientious people who can clearly see how Fiji citizens of all races are being manipulated and pitted against each other by a group of indigenous elites and their business cronies for their own political ends.

Davies and Crosbie cannot stand to see injustice. They are speaking out against the oppression of Indo-Fijians under the SDL.

They did not have to stick out their necks and subject themselves to the abuse and insults, but they are doing it because they are good people carrying out their true journalistic and academic functions.

I salute and respect these two great defenders of Indo-Fijians, and promoters of multiculturalism, pluralism, freedom, democracy and togetherness of all of Fiji's people.
sara'ssista said…
Oh I Disagree, there is plenty of naïveté to go around from what I have seen on this blog.
Anonymous said…
Couldn't agree more! These two are conscience-driven people with honesty and integrity intact. And then look at our own Indo-Fijians like Dr Brij Lal who unashamedly stands to be photographed with Kaitani, a new champion of democracy! In such analysis, often the ordinary indigenous Fijian are ignored. They were no less victims of the Chiefs and the Fijian aristocracy, as they colluded and robbed their own people ruthlessly. There is unspeakable poverty among the indigenous Fijians, thanks to their so-called leaders. For example, they got them to evict Indo-Fijian tenants from their land. The NLTB became the instrument of a racist Govt to carryout the eviction when the law required them to administer the lands in the best interst of the landowners. It broke its charter and the termination of leases denied landowners millions of dollars every year and continue to. It did not affect the chiefs and the Fijian aristocracy until Bainimarama moved with his guns and sent them helter-skelter. Qarase wasn't a millionaire but once he became the PM he became a multimillionaire through manipulation of his shares in the Fijian Holdings Ltd. It was meant to be holding shares for the Provincial Councils but they were cleverly sidelined,as the Fijian elites tookover the shares. Really, the impact of their actions not only discriminated against Indo-Fijians but severely disadvantaged ordinary indigenous Fijians. Someone rightly wrote that Bainimarama will be seen not as a dictator but as a liberator of his people.
Obviously, there are excesses, as a silly and inconsiderate minority need to be contained for the greater good of the majority and the nation.
If Fiji has failed, it did not fail because of its people but because of its leaders - it includes Indo-Fijian leaders too! They served themselves rather then the community or the nation but also waived the flag, posing as the champions of the poor. Rotten democracy cannot remove rotten leaders but they must be removed, as they become the cancer on the body of democracy. God bless Fiji!
more of the same said…
Sara'ssista, naive doesn't begin to describe your own constant defence of the SDL and everything about the old order in Fiji. Presume you are accusing Croz Walsh and Graham Davis of being naive in seeing anything other than your own version of events. Davis starts out admitting his analysis it's subjective (ie. coloured by his own opinions) but then goes on to mount an argument that seems pretty spot on. Why not answer the points he makes rather than just dismissing him as naive? Where are the factual errors? A glib dismissal like this isn't good enough.
Necessary & Sufficient experience said…
A Case must be made for the position within the state of Fiji for many other Pacific Islanders: Rabi Islanders, those of Solomon Island heritage, those of mixed race (whatever mix that may be who are especially discriminated against, often by both sides - this is now recognised in British social studies currently underway). All these people who contribute to the land in which they live through taxation which is directly or indirectly paid are owed a duty of responsibility by the State for just treatment and consideratn. The former SVT and SDL goveernments and the Interim Government after the chaos of 2000 Terrorist Upheaval were targeted, living often in trauma and terror of further attack.

Let the Lowy Institute and the ever-so-slow governments of both Australia and New Zealand in particular realise that they have unduly collaborated in the gross esclusion of such people. When Ms Hayeard Jones came into Fiji post-floods in January 2009, this was made perfectly clear to her. Why the long delay in comprehension?

The role and position of the taxpayer in a Modern State is without challenge. All Conventions and MOUs recognise this and insist upon justice and a parity of esteem through fair treatment on all key performance indicators of any state signatory.

No brilliance of deduction is required to validate this argument. Simply, observation and a necessary period of experience on the ground: since October 10 1970. Is this sufficient?
Walker Texas Ranger said…
@ sara'ssista

There is no naivete here concerning Incitement to Terrorism which is taking place on Coup 4.5. That is now a global criminal act and it should be immediately investigated by Interpol. The Australian, New Zealand and the Fiji Police working in concert must now act without any more delay. Instructing people how to make bombs, where to find such instruction and how to use them is now universally outlawed. Take action now.
Anonymous said…
Lunacy is the product of a deranged mind. Get yourself checked Sara'ssista! Contribute something to justify your claim, rather then making sweeping statements.
sara'ssista said…
What is not good enough is your presumption, wrongly that I defend previous governments of ANY persuasion. I do not. What I find laughable that this regime measures any success or achievement against previous flawed governments and not on merit and with any sort of mandate. This regime visiting villages and handing out cash smacks of pork barreling and I my view , whatever the need, seeks to entrench a view of the military that it has any role in governance it does not deserve, nor has any entitlement. I have condemned all coups and all perpetrators. So feel free to keep any worthy reforms that this regime may see fit to Decree,and that may well be overdue, but I and others still demand that this military regime be held to account, and all tried for mutiny and treason, every last one. The idea that anything but poison can come from the fruit of this tree, is naive. If you want to go back as far as rabuka and his cronies, then good, him too. The ends as far as I am concerned do not justify the means, not at all. Btw, I argue when I want and address arguments as I wish, no different to others including Croz.
Once over lightly said…
sara'ssista, then why not tell us exactly what you disagree with about the Davis analysis? What has he said here that is wrong in fact, and especially his attack on the SDL? To paint him as naive isn't helping people like me who wonder who's right in all of this. As he says, the way things are your average person has no way of deciding who is right and who is wrong. It doesn't help when regime opponents like you won't lay out their case in detail. Is it because you are losing the argument? ie five years on, the regime is still there, evidently has the support of two thirds of the population and doesn't need the aussies and kiwis?
sister saras said…
Go have a cold shower and come back to reality luvena. I am sure you are a better person than what you present yourself to be.
Ram Sami said…
An excellent presentation by Graham Davis.

I want political activist Wadan Narsey to read it and offer his comments !!
sara'ssista said…
Lunacy? I would look no further than Texas rangers comments. I surely do want this regime overthrown and the means don' t much concern me, but I don't re all instructing otters to make bombs?! This regime IS illegal and illegitimate, I don't know what their defense could possibly be. Do as we say not as we do, perhaps.
sara'ssista said…
@ once over...I don't have to address it, it was commentary and as he said, not for peer review. I have repeatedly said that this regime is about their way or no way. I do not accept this. I have also said repeatedly that after the regime and their collaborators are gaoled, THEN we can have a new constitution, with a govt of national unity. The military can be disarmed and reduced, and the former judicary can be restored, minus those that have illegally taken oaths. The decrees can be rescinded , and there can be a truth and reconciliation type commission. I don't see anything unreasonable in any of this.
SOE said…
@ Incitement to terrorism on coup 4.5 - Ratu Tevita Uluilakemba Mara's address to a nation facing orchestrated attacks:

An odd choice of location for a Fiji Day Address. A site now recognised for the encouragement it permits of attacks on a civilian population by IEDs and arson. A site which promotes gratuitous and targeted assassination.

This is all wrong, Ratu Tevita. We shall not be moved by incitement to terror or any other violence for which you and your supporters advocate. Rethink your strategy. Rethink it fast and inform your supporters likewise.

The Fiji National Anthem we sing here in Fiji proclaims:

"And we honour and defend the Cause of Freedom ever. Onward march together - GOD BLESS FIJI".

We intend to achieve this freedom and not be dissuaded by threats from afar.
Non-Aligned Movement of States said…

You sound like an anarchist? Unprepared to defend ANY previous government of any persuasion? But, sara'ssista, government like the politics which propels it is

'The Art of the Possible'

people must be governed by one method or another.

Explain yourself. Your confusion leads us to the conclusion that you resist any administration other than tribal. That is why Fiji was ceded at the second effort by Ratu Seru Cakobau and to repel the marauding French who were intent on revenge and restitution. The world is a demanding and difficult place for the disorganised! Every state requires a measure of support and the Non-Aligned Movement came into being for this precise reason.
sara'ssista said…
@ non-aligned, your conclusion is wrong.
Anonymous said…
sara'ssista you are confused and incoherent - wasting your time and valuable space, which is a medium for people with divergent views to make sensible comments. You are the only odd one. You will be respected if you say less and mean more - if you can understand what I mean! Chances are that it is quite beyond you and you need help but are you capable of being helped? Perhaps gone too far to make a return!
Judgement and Integrity said…
Graham Davis is an experienced journalist and I expected more from him. He may be right that the overseas media is anti a dictatorial regime. But to be honest what does he expect. The media he is referring to are all in liberal democracies and we fight wars against dictators. Being anti dictators is part of our ingrained culture.

Graham attacks the media for not understanding the complexities and the subtleties of the Fijian situation. In effect he is saying that the end justifies the means. On his Grubsheet he confirms that Bainimarama is a dictator but he is necessary to move Fiji forward to a truly democratic and race free country.

Let’s have a look at some of his points.

“You (Journalists) speak not just for yourselves but for all Fijians, helping to explain the nation to itself and reflecting crucial aspects of its way of life now and for all time.” Due to censorship they are only speaking for the Government. There is no other point of view allowed. Please Graham tell me when you last saw a article or comment piece that had an opposing point of view to the Government.

“Good journalism requires, above all, judgment and integrity – skills that really can’t be taught , even in the finest journalism schools.”

How can you learn judgement and integrity as a journalist when you have to write not to your readers or your conscience but for the censor? You cannot so please do not try and make out good journalism is currently practiced in Fiji. The journalists are doing a good job in a very difficult situation, but they would be the first to admit there is no integrity and they judge their stories not by good journalism but will they get past the insidious Sharon Smith Johns and her censorship cronies.

“Why does the human rights lobby seem more concerned with the rights of a handful of individuals – however ill treated they may have been – than the rights of hundreds of thousands of their increasingly marginalised fellow citizens?”

This is a really good point. However as none of the people of Fiji currently have any democratic rights and the whole population is increasingly marginalized we seem to be in an even worse position and individuals are still being beaten and imprisoned without due cause.

“Those who forecast economic collapse can’t bring themselves to report that the economy has stabilised, foreign reserves are rising by the month, and Fiji’s projected growth for the coming year is the same as it was in the last year of the SDL government.”

The economy is not going to collapse, but it is still slowly dying. The economy is still smaller now, after 5 years of Bainimarama, than it was in 2006, Qarase’s last year in office. Poverty is on the rise, unemployment is on the rise, inflation is high. And you trumpet triumphally that this year’s projected growth of 1.5% is an achievement. You should also remember that from March 2006 onwards the Bainimarama was constantly threatening to hold a coup. Hardly the stable environment you need for investment.

Graham you are right the overseas press have not been as thorough in their research and reporting as they might have been. But that is not the real story. The real story is that the people of Fiji have no voice. None at all. Whether it is through elections, through the media, through public meetings, through union meetings. We do not have a voice. You need to do more research on the realities on the ground in Fiji and then start writing with integrity. You can write with integrity because you are not censored.
Graham Davis said…
"Judgement and integrity", you will find - on a closer reading on my speech - that I address many of the issues you raise.

You seem to have overlooked the fact that I specifically appealed to the government to lift censorship and restore the voice of ordinary Fijians. In fact, I did it to the face of Sharon Smith Johns - the regime spokesperson - who was on the same podium and spoke just before me.

I added an extra line that isn't in the published speech - "Yalo vinaka, Sharon, would you please pass on my request to the prime minister", to which she replied " yes, I will". I can't see how I can do much more under the circumstances.

As to your other points, I was, in fact, referring to writers, not journalists, when I said they spoke for the nation as a whole. It was a literary festival, after all, and a celebration of a small but growing band of local writers who are giving Fijians more of a voice. As far as I know, they haven't been censored themselves.

As for integrity and judgement among Fiji journalists, I'm afraid to say that Sharon Smith Johns was able to produce a very good example of why the government thinks the censorship provisions of the PER can't be lifted. She told the gathering that her most recent act of censorship had been to prevent the Fiji Times from publishing an article and cartoon - based on union sources - questioning the safety of Air Pacific because its maintenance teams were being poached by other airlines.

Had this article and cartoon been published - she said - it would have damaged public confidence in the airline and by extension, the entire Fiji economy. And, she said, there was no evidence whatsoever that the story was true.

All this raises an intriguing question that goes to the heart of your claim about Fiji journalists being prevented from exercising judgement and integrity. Can they be trusted to do so when the editorial leadership of the Fiji Times presumably commissioned or snctioned such a potentially damaging story in the first place? I'm afraid I had no answer and neither did anyone else in the room.

This story was only justifiable if there was a real threat to the safety of Air Pacific passengers. There's simply no evidence of that except on the say so of union sources currently in dispute with the airline. So I would argue that a lack of judgement and integrity on the part of the Fiji Times is also an issue here. Clearly, such irresponsible editorial behaviour isn't helping the rest of the Fiji media shake off the shackles of censorship.

I stand by my comments on the Fiji economy. Yes, four years of growth have been lost but it's now back to where it was under Qarase. This is not something that's given adequate coverage in the regional media.
Yea yea said…
@ Graham,

And how is "four years of lost growth" taking Fiji forward. After all moving forward is the catch cry of this government ?
Not buying it said…
@ Graham,

The Sharon example is interesting but can she honesty say they are only censoring things like this ? I suspect the main criteria fro censoring is anything that might reflect poorly on government or anything that might be contrary to their views and positions. It looks to me as if the PM and his team have become highly sensitive to any critism full stop. The PER serves to remove this and let the PM and his team feel comfortable and righteous. it also makes them lazy and does nothing to prepare for free and fare elections - what new govrnment would want anything less than the control this government has over the media ?
Judgement and Integrity said…

Your speech was entitled “The Foreign Media's Coverage of Fiji: Past and Present” Which is why I assumed the writers you were referring to were journalists exclusively and not just part of the audience.

You can do more than ask Sharon to remove censorship. I will come to that at the end of this comment

You know as well as I do that the removal of PER and media Censorship has to happen well in advance of elections in 2014. Media Freedom is so fundamental to democracy that if the Government really wanted us to believe we would have free and fair in 2014, we need the removal of censorship now and not some vague promise about electronic voting systems. We were promised PER would be removed over 12 months ago with the introduction of the Media decree but like so many other promises it was broken.

Your Air Pacific example is intriguing. It is actually a fact that Air Pacific’s skilled engineers are being poached or just leaving Air Pac. I agree there may be no detrimental affect on the quality of the maintenance. I disagree with you because I believe the poaching of staff is a valid story for a news paper to cover, whether it is an airline or hospitals. But the point about uncensored media is that the unions should be allowed to make their point. Air Pacific should be allowed to make its point and then it is up to the reader to decide.

Instead we have to take the word of Sharon Smith Johns, who has been caught out in numerous lies, that there is no truth in the story.

Graham, if the Australian Government quashed one of your stories on the say so of the Ministry of Information you would be apoplectic with rage. Please, show your integrity and don’t stoop to the double standards that Australia should have one level of media freedom and Fiji another.

With regards to the economy, we have “projected” growth of 1.5% this year. That is the lowest rate during Qarase’s time. That low rate was achieved in 2006, when Bainimarama was threatening to hold a coup on a regular basis from as early as March. As I said before coups and the threat of coups are not conducive to a stable economy. Since Bainimarama has been in control more harm as been done to the economy than any other prime minister. It will also take a number of years of 1.5% growth to get back to the 2006 level.

Graham and also Croz, please take the blinkers off. Bainimarama has broken so many promises about elections, about removing PER etc. Please stop supporting him until there is concrete evidence there will be an end to this dictatorship and we will have free and fair elections in 2014. The first step has to be the removal of PER and censorship. Your tacit support just adds legitimacy to a regime that does not deserve it. I hope that Bainimarama will make the necessary steps so we can support him but as of this moment I have not seen one actual forward movement to elections since the abrogation of the constitution. If you have then please share it with me.
Ram Sami said…
@yea yea

It's like when you want to take a great leap forward, you have to step back, run to the mark and then jump !!

That's 4 years of lost growth !!
Your most important asset is....your job! said…
@ Judgement & integrity and Not buying it....

Levels of economic growth in Fiji must be at least around 6% per annum to take care of the employment of those leaving school. This was so in 1997 and 1998 and we now would require a consistent performance of 5-6% to cater for the growing population of young people seeking work. Unemployed graduates are all over the place. An ever present danger. Think of Tunisia. It is sad to be pessistic but the facts point to this rather than the reverse. Too many young people either too little or over-educated for the jobs which are still around. It is frustrating to see how little understanding there is both within and outside of government about what it takes to maintain just one sustainable job today with inflation busting well into double digits and some. Pontificating about a future of full-employment is frankly Whistling in the Wind. It will not happen; it cannot happen in a free market economy. Is that what we aspire to? Or shall the authoritarian drift lead us to a Vietnamese style of running things? They are managing to grow at around 6% pa despite their Communist dogma. Why the disparity with Fiji? What are they getting right that we are unable to do? We really must get our thinking into gear. All this time-wasting is costing us dear. Jobs lost now will never return. Not in the same guise, that is. Value your job. It is your most important asset if you have one!
sara'ssista said…
censored a cartoon lampooning the airline, just like any cartoonist would do in Aus where qantas is doing the same, and there are always safety issues, always, but in Aus you hear about them, in fiji they would be censored. Since when was allegedly releasing an air pacific document treason??!! A rathet typically petulent response from a regime again caught out.

Oh and for Anon Mon 10 Oct, there are hardly many comments to wade throughm anyway on this blog, so to save your time feel free to not read mine.
sara'ssista said…
Perhaps i may have missed something, the bleating about the Fijitimes from the PS for misinformation, this is the same regime that REQUIRED a new owner, got a compliant new owner and are still complaining about the reportage and cartoons??!! The same regime that claims to abhor corruption, appoints some new some familiar faces, plays musical chairs on government and quasi govenrmennt boards that appear to have a military presence and still scanadals are emrging about mismanagment and corruption in relation to their own appointees?. I note Smith-johns didn't even refute the news about the complicity of air pacific drafting decrees.. very quiet on that one.
Anonymous said…
This is an outstanding speech - the finest after a very long time. Wish I was there to share the occasion. It would be like lemon in the mouths of the so-called 'democrats' who hold contrary views and their reaction against it is naturally acrimonious. Honestly, what you said should have come out from the mouths of Indo-Fijian leaders. You have done what they should have done right from the beginning but they were gutless, self-serving and engaged primarily in dividing their own community to secure their own political nests. They left their community to be devoured by the vultures of racism. Indeed, Indo-Fijians were injudicious in their selection of leaders, most fled the scene when the crunch came and those that stayed behind used the opportunity to exploit them. Ordinary Indo-Fijians were victims of ethno-nationalists and their own leaders who lacked courage, honesty or credibility.

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