News and Comments Wednesday 25 June
In the Fiji Times on Tuesday, Tikoitoga said he did not admit that citizens had been beaten and tortured by the military, saying instead that his exact words were, "I wouldn't deny that these things happened," The distinction may be a fine one but he was not there when the military abused women opposition activists at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in early 2007. The officer present, according to one of the women, was Ratu Tevita Mara now in exile in Tonga.
Tikoitoga did, however, justify unspecified action against those opposing the 2006 military takeover.
"A lot of these people," he said, "were actually trying to instigate violence by creating anti-government movements or militant groups. They were talking on the radio and so on. If you let them continue to have a voice, you create a potentially dangerous environment. So it was the lesser of two devils," .
If his assessment was correct, action not taken at that time could have resulted in a failed coup. And whatever one thinks about the merits or otherwise of the Coup, strong action against possibly terminal destabilisation is understandable.
Tikoitoga also questioned the timing of the reports published in "the Herald and The Age ; how what he said was taken out of context, and "how political parties are trying to make comments including the USP people (See 'Crusade' item below.)
The Fiji Times article continued:
"I stand by my statement to the public of Fiji that the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces is apolitical as we are here to do our job and that is what we will stand by."
He said "military involvement or a push from other political parties or commentators to include the military in political discussions would not help the RFMF achieve their apolitical aspirations."
"What I question now is the timing of that paragraph to be put out as we near the elections, it's very mischievous to a point that it has now questioned the integrity of the RFMF in a period where we have quite clearly told the public of Fiji that we want no part in political discussions.
"We do not support any political party and we are ready to accept any government that comes after election and we will respect the Constitution," he said.
"I am sincerely asking political parties and commentators not to take those comments out of contexts.'
He said his full interview to the media organisations were not published.
NEW CRUSADE BY USP JOURNALIST EDUCATOR. Since the Fijian head of USP's journalism programme went on leave to complete a doctorate in Australia, the programme has seen a high staff turnover. First was the departure of Canadian "voyager" Dr Marc Edge who resigned or, if he is to be believed, was forced to resign because of his heavy engagement in Fiji politics.
He was followed by the sudden departure of his replacement for either domestic reasons or because he had a philosophical disagreement with the university's management, depending on who you believe..
And now we have Dr Matthew Thompson who has gone much further than his predecessors by reading too much into what Brig.Gen.Tikoitoga said to the Australian media (see above) and, mainly on the basis of hearsay (he has only been in Fiji for two months), he has accused the military and police of beatings and torture on a scale more reminiscent of Iraq — which not even the anti-Bainimarama blogs have claimed.
I shall say more of his engagement when I have consulted with more people and had time to reflect on the implications of his actions. I am concerned not simply with what he said and what this may mean for media freedom in Fiji, but also whether a person on a work permit contracted to teach should assume that he also has a permit to be a political journalist, free to comment and take sides on the local political scene, irrespective of its possible consequences for his students and on the institution that employs him.
MINISTRY BACKTRACKS ON PARETI BUT NOT ON RIKA. An other media-related incident saw USP journalist staff, Pat Craddock and Matthew Thompson, crying foul over Islands Business Editor Samisoni Pareti and former Fiji Times Editor Netani Rika being refused accreditation to the recent Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting. They claimed this was political inference that limited media freedom.
The Ministry of information initially stated that the former was not a registered journalist and the latter's application was lodged five days after the official deadline for accreditation. Samisoni was, however, informed that Islands Business, his new employer, was welcome to send another journalist to cover the event. More than the normal security was necessary at the PIDF meeting because of the attendance of the Indonesian President.
Ministry of information Permanent Secretary Sharon Smith-Johns, however, has now apologised to Samisoni for basing their decision "on what now appears to be incorrect information.This was the result of miscommunication between the Ministry and the Media Industry Development Authority ... I have launched a full investigation into the matter to make sure that an incident like this is not repeated in the future," she said.
PURSE STRINGS. NFP Party president Tupou Draunidalo is urging some 2,000 registered Fijian voters living in NZ ("who have an important say with their votes and financial influence over family in Fiji" ) to tell their relatives not to vote for Bainimarama because this would "legitimise the coup and encourage the military to think it was acceptable to do it again." NFP leader Biman Prasad is also in NZ hoping to gather votes.
VOTING FOR THE FIRST TIME. It is estimated that 28% of Fijians voting in September will be voting in an election for the first time.