Tuesday, 10 March 2009

(o+) What, Exactly, Did the Ambassador Say?

I'm a little perplexed. Surely ambassadors are bound by code or precedent not to comment negatively on the internal political affairs of the country to which they are accredited. If this were not so, diplomatic channels between many countries would clamp shut as their ambassadors were sent home. The whole point of a foreign embassy is to keep channels open.

So what exactly did US Ambassador Steve McGann say at the Prophet Mohammed Birthday celebration in Nadi? The FijiLive heading read "US: Pressure Government to Hold Polls" and the text: "The people of Fiji have to work together to pressure the interim government to hold elections." But neither heading nor text was in speechmarks so we do not know if these were the Ambassador's actual words or the interpretation put on his words by FijiLive's sub-editor who wrote the heading and its reporter who wrote the script?

What we do know he said (because of the speechmarks, and if reported correctly) is “We call upon all Fijians [citizens] to work together to ensure a rapid return to democracy. It is when all people join in common cause that they can solve their toughest challenges.”

This is a very different message, far more diplomatic, far less intrusive and far more helpful, because it seems to acknowledge that all parties -- not just the Interim Goverment and its supporters but Qarase and his supporters, and all the moderates sitting somewhere in-between -- must be pressed upon to resolve the present situation. The heading should have read: Ambassador Urges All Fijians [Citizens] to Work Together.

It is no wonder that Bainimarama reacted by telling the Ambassador to "Stay Out of Fiji's Affairs" (heading) and "stop meddling in Fiji's affairs" (text). But did Bainimarama actually say this? There were no speechmarks. And might he have said something else had McCann's initial remarks been accurately reported? We will never know.

But, when all is said (but not done), McGann did speak even if he should not, and if accurately reported, much of what he said was fair to all parties. He acknowledged the Interim Government's "efforts to promulgate fair and equitable electoral changes" but said "a clear timetable is needed [to bring about change] through inclusive, transparent discussions and constitutional processes that incorporate the views and aspirations of all."

On balance, though, I think ambassadors would be wiser to avoid expressing opinions in public that can be used by others to further stall progress in a delicately-poised political situation -- which is what happened in this case. [Quotes from Fijilive articles, 9th and 10th March.]


  1. "I think the Ambassador would be wiser to avoid expressing opinions in public that can be used by others."

    If Ambassadors are to use that tact to do why do we need them?

  2. Please elaborate. I don't quite understand. Are you addressing "avoid expressing opinions" or "that can be used by others"? We need ambassadors because they act as conduits between countries.

  3. It would be un-diplomatic and uncouth if the US Ambassador to Saudia Arabia, would call for an immediate path to democratic elections, in the middle of Mecca; during the Prophet Mohammed B'day.

    I think this focus on semantics, is a sort of missing the larger point.

    What the media failed to point out using 'crtitical thinking' that, if the US does not call for democracy in China, Saudia Arabia; why then does the US State Dept have a different standard for Fiji.

    Ditto for Pakistan, whose lawyers are trying to organize a protest march because they're choice of Supreme Court Judge was not brought back, after Musharak sacked him.


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