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In many ways the recent stories of the Fiji Times —and the stories around the Fiji Times— have epitomised the dilemma that is Fiji, with all its apparent contradictions and the need to rethink values and attitudes once taken for granted. If a just way forward is to be found, most dichotomous thinking in terms of black and white, and moral absolutes on right and wrong, can no longer remain unquestioned.
FULL TEXT OF SWINSTEAD INTERVIEW by FBC's Stanley Simpson's interview on 6 October 2010 as published on the Pacific Media Centre blogsite. Here are three extracts pertinent to our dilemma:
"Yes, we are changing direction. Having watched News Ltd perish in this country, there’s no sense in committing suicide, even with a locally-owned replacement. There is no doubt that The Fiji Times cannot be antagonistic to the government, What on earth does it prove? But we will ask questions in a fair and balanced way because we will be helping to bring the people to the government.
"The meeting [with Sharon Smith Johns] went well. I presented my credentials, which if I may say so, are pretty good; I said my piece and the permanent secretary said hers. I certainly understood that she was delivering the government’s line and in my short time here I already chosen to support that line. Why? Because most respected people here have spoken to me about infrastructure finally taking shape; about one nation one people, about equality from coast to coast. If you like, you can be cynical about it, but from where I stand —and I first made up my mind about this in 1979 as I left after four years in the chair at the times — the two main communities have to learn to live together EQUALLY, with equal opportunity and equal hard work.
"We have to help people understand that there some highly-educated soldiers walking on this path set by their leader and, given that education, they will all yearn for democratic elections when the time comes. It is, I believe, inevitable and exciting."
HOW AN ANTI-GOVT BLOG SEES IT. "The new owner, the Motibhai Group and its chairman, Mahendra Patel, and publisher Dallas Swinstead are taking the paper in a new direction —straight into the arms of the military regime— in an effort to win back the favours of the dollar disposers, Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum."
FIJI TIMES OLD AND NEW (as seen by an Old Timer). The big test comes when those who were systematically excluded from the Letters Page or the 'Columns without By-Lines' of the former Fiji Times under News Corp are once again admitted if they objectively have something serious and useful to say.
Why was there no investigative reporting on corruption or organised crime over the past five years or more? None that was of any use to those receiving long-standing, multiple threats? Or of murders linked to organised criminals when relatives of the murdered were still under threat? This was a sign that the inherent "Shoot the Messenger" racism of former executives had dominated their wits. There was a duty, more than a duty —an imperative— to investigate these criminal, intimidatory threats and to report on them.
Particularly, when the Fiji Police were failing in their duty to investigate fully and charge all involved. A mother and her daughter have been obliged to leave Fiji because of this. The Fiji Times staff then refused to report from the High Court on the case and others like it where the matter was 'vacated'. Why was thispermitted? Why did the Police quite happily and obligingly (for the criminals) allow these persons to go free? Until the Fiji Times and other media entities come to terms with this, we must conclude that the entire landscape was flawed and inimical to justice.
At least, the registration of all phones, mobile and landline, allows for blocking. This is working. Three calls were blocked just yesterday to my knowledge on only one line. They can now be traced. This is the world of le Carre and Frederick Forsyth's novels. With the exception that it is now on the ground in Fiji and has been for more than five years. How could the PER have been removed with all this in play? We need to "get real".
FIJI WITHOUT THE FIJI TIMES IS UNTHINKABLE. Saturday's editorial "A Breath of Fresh Air" by new editor Fred Wesley. Republished from Café Pacific. "It is time to share with our readers where we are and where we plan to go ..." Read on.
NEWS LTD STRIKES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. With not a cent left invested in the Fiji Times, Rupert Murdoch's The Australian will not give up. Using the same old sources it tells the same old stories about the never-ending disasters occurring in Fiji. If you wish, again, to read about the gagged media, Chaudhry's arrest, Rika's resignation, Fiji Times staff in tears, subscribe to The Australian. More disasters are promised next week.
But I am unfair, amid the disasters, they reported one contrary view, from the new Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead, who said business in Fiji is "bowling along", and he is impressed by the military leadership.
"It's a helluva undertaking, but very well organised, and however brutal it might seem to us in Australia, it's not all that harsh," he says. "There is no sense here of military control. It's the same old Fiji. I have very early reached the conclusion that what they are doing is right."
He says an editorial about freedom of speech was recently rejected by the censor, resulting in the paper being delayed, and thus losing sales."I did not blame the censor but felt that it was the writer's fault: he could have done a better job."
SWINSTEAD ON THE NEW GUARD at the Fiji Times.