REGION: Samoa Observer editorial - When a dictator talks about the media
Thursday, April 5, 2012
By the editor, Matā’afa Keni Lesa
APIA (Samoa Observer / Pacific Media Watch): Let’s talk a little about Fiji. There is nothing that should surprise us anymore about what’s happening there. And the latest developments on the land where a gun-totting dictator is ruling with an iron fist are again a reminder about why such regimes should be put away once and for all.
They are so ruthless they simply don’t care what people think. What’s more, they seem to thrive on the attention their misdeeds grab and it doesn’t matter to them if it’s right or wrong.
These people become a law unto themselves and no one would dare to question them, even the people whose job is to make sure those questions are asked.
Earlier [last] week in Fiji, self-professed Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, welcomed members of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) for its 2012 Summit.
Hundreds of journalists – including some from Samoa - were there to take part in the weeklong festivities, which included workshops, meetings and a bit of merry making.
The Samoa Observer by the way was invited to attend but we’ve politely declined the invitation for reasons that are well known.
Anyway, when members of the regional media arrived, Bainimarama, the man who has effectively turned the media in Fiji into nothing more than a “propaganda machine,” turned up.
In his speech to open the Summit, he spoke about the need to “promote good reporting and good editors.”
Listen to him: “Historically, the Pacific media culture has been a troubled one. Media organisations indeed need to invest more in their reporters and editors.
“To have a media that is respected, whose analysis and opinion matters, reporters and editors need to be nurtured.”
Let’s stop for a second and think about this. What’s the point of investing in “good reporting and good editors” if your regime insists on censorship and scare-mongering tactics?
How exactly does Bainimarama propose to “nurture” reporters? What does he know about the media anyway?
Let’s continue. “Fiji faces this reality like the rest of the Pacific,” he said. “It is precisely for this reason why my government put a special provision in our emergency regulations to exert control over media in special cases.
Justice for who?
This was at a time of reform, at a time of massive change in our society. We have been leveling the playing field and creating substantive justice for all.” Justice for who and what? Was it justice for bloodshed and trampling on people’s rights?
Now let’s back up a little bit. Here’s a man who is talking about promoting “good reporting and good editors” and in the very next breath tries to justify exerting “control” over the media. How hypocritical is that?
At this stage in this piece, it’s hard enough taking in the few lines we’ve quoted here. So imagine those journalists sitting in Fiji and having to listen to the entire lecture?
Still, let’s take one more paragraph from Bainimarama. “Your job is to inform our citizenry. Your job is to inspire constructive public debate. Your job is to help fight corruption,” he said.
Well said Bainimarama. But again we ask, how can the media “inspire constructive public debate” under such draconian media laws currently in place in Fiji? And what’s Bainimarama’s definition of the term “constructive public debate?” Does it involve gun-wielding military men breathing down the editor’s neck?
Insult to 'highest degree'
The point is that it was utterly pathetic to have someone who has completely destroyed the plural and vibrant media industry in Fiji harp on about media ethics. It is an insult of the highest degree. The truth is simple enough.
Since 2006, the rights of citizens in Fiji have been seriously violated. In 2010, Bainimarama’s government tightened media ownership laws, forcing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to sell its Fiji Times masthead, at the time a feisty critic of the Fiji regime. A couple of “good editors” have been booted from Fiji.
Later, the US-owned bottled water firm Fiji Water temporarily closed its operations when the government hiked the tax on water it extracts from a local aquifer by 5000 percent. At the time, Fiji Water executives said Fiji was becoming “increasingly unstable and becoming a very risky place in which to invest.”
And, as if to end all doubt about Bainimarama’s hypocrisy, on the week where the regional media [was] gathering in Fiji, his regime has seized control of Air Pacific from Australia’s Qantas in a manner only dictators are capable of pulling off.
“(The) government has now corrected the activities of prior Fijian governments, which allowed foreign citizens to control Fiji’s national airlines,” a statement from his government said.
Perhaps someone in Fiji should remind Bainimarama that those “foreign citizens” have been driving Air Pacific so that today, it stands as one of the region’s shining examples of commercial success. But that’s a point you are unlikely to read in any of Fiji’s dailies though. It’s all part of the Bainimarama’s promotion of “good reporting and good editors.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.