Pacific Scoop

Opinion: Bainimarama speaks out on Māori Television

Pacific Press Release – Pacific Media Watch, 13 September 2009


By Carmen Parahi of Māori Television

AUCKLAND (Sunday Star-Times/Pacific Media Watch): It took three years, several reporters and many phone calls and emails to nail our exclusive interview with Josaia Voreqe Frank Bainimarama.

By chance last month, the CEO of Fiji Broadcasting, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, visited Māori Television during a business trip to New Zealand. Fiji Broadcasting is a government-owned radio network planning to expand into television next year.

I interviewed Sayed-Khaiyum for a Pacific Islands Forum reaction story to Fiji. During our interview, he told us Māori Television should travel to Fiji and find out what Fijians really think of Fiji’s military regime.

His tone indicated he is a cautious supporter of the military-led government.

He said: “Whether anyone agrees with this or not, this is the first time any government is talking a sense of belonging for the people of Fiji.”

As he was leaving Māori Television, he told me if we travelled to Fiji to find out the real views of Fijians, he would also seek an interview with interim Prime Minister Bainimarama for us.

Sayed-Khaiyum is the brother of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Electoral Reform, Public Enterprises and Anti-corruption. Within days, we had an email confirming our interview with the commodore.

But the excitement of the interview was tempered with caution. Although we received many reassurances the interview would take place, we had none to say we would leave Fiji with our tapes.

Many foreign journalists have been kicked out of Fiji and their tapes taken from them. Those reporting from the front-line are muzzled by government censors. Journalists who criticise the government have been threatened and detained by police.

Our crew of five left New Zealand last Tuesday, a little nervous. We didn’t know what to expect but we were certainly open to all possibilities, both good and bad.

Coincidentally, we travelled to Fiji on the same day as the Commonwealth delegation led by former governor-general and Māori, Sir Paul Reeves, who was meeting with the commodore. Sir Paul endorsed our
interview with the commodore.

Interim Prime Minister Bainimarama had chosen to give television interviews to a select media group – Māori Television, Al Jazeera and Australia’s SBS, networks which he may view as sympathetic to his cause, and which would probably allow him to have his say.

With this in mind, we had to ensure we were not linked into “Frank’s propaganda machine” and we had to maintain our journalistic integrity at all costs. It was a fine balancing act, ensuring we didn’t lose the interview, our tapes, get detained and deported because we were talking to opponents of the military regime.

Yet, we needed to balance the government’s perspective with those on the ground.

Ultimately, we truly wanted to hear what Frank Bainimarama had to say and what Fijians had to say about him.

Hit road running
On the afternoon we arrived, we hit the road running. We talked to locals in Lami Bay, just outside Suva.

Like many of the other villages we observed, Lami is poor. But people are still having fun, playing sport, walking around freely and were not shy to talk to us about Fiji’s politics.

We encountered the same open manner in Suva. Everyone told us they are going about their daily lives without interference. Only those who oppose the government, or have anything to do with politics, have any issues.

One Indo-Fijian man we met in Suva’s marketplace, Ramesh Prasad, said: “No problem with the government, as far as I can tell everyone is happy with the government, especially we Indians, we’re safe now.”

It’s a reference to the historical racial tensions between native Fijians and Indo-Fijians.

Everyone we spoke to agreed if they stepped out of line they would be dealt with by the armed forces. The army has been training police and security officers to be more disciplined in their manner, rooting out any corruption. Apparently, bullish enforcement methods in use after the coup are now frowned upon.

We expected to see a military presence on Fiji’s streets but we saw no posts or roadblocks. It seems the new government no longer wants an overt military presence on the streets.

But on the morning of our interview with the interim prime minister, we found where the military now are. They’re crawling all over the new government wing, the seat of Fiji’s power, wearing uniforms and suits.

While we waited for the commodore to arrive, we realised we were being filmed by the Ministry of Information. They told us that they were filming our entire interview for archival purposes.

So we filmed them filming us filming them. While we were setting up and trying to navigate around all the Information Ministry staff and security officers, the commodore had a very frank conversation with interviewer and Native Affairs presenter Julian Wilcox.

Bainimarama asked: “Who owns Māori Television?” Julian Wilcox replied: “It’s funded by the government, our raison d’etre is the Māori language.”

Bainimarama queried again: “But it’s funded by the government?”

Wilcox replied: “Yes.”

“Do they censor you?” “No, we’re free to do the stories and programmes we want to do, even if the government doesn’t agree with it.”

Bainimarama quipped: “You better watch out, they may want to censor you.”

Bainimarama did not want to talk about his whakapapa, which is an important aspect of being Māori, and an obvious starting point for our questions.

He was pushed to reveal his personal side, but refused, point blank.

Open, forthcoming
Wilcox launched into the interview and for the next 40 minutes Bainimarama outlined the reasons he is in control of Fiji. At times, the commodore was open and forthcoming.

Wilcox: “We talked a lot about the New Zealand-Fiji relationship here. If that relationship has been damaged, how do you think that relationship could be repaired, could be rebuilt?”

Bainimarama: “It’s easily, well, you know when the former government lost the election last year, we thought that the new government would have different views about that relationship … apparently not. So it would be a while before the damage is repaired. But the people of New Zealand and Fiji have that relationship which no one can change, it’s
the politicians that are doing it for us.”

Wilcox: “So, as long as John Key is the prime minister of the country, that there will…”

Bainimarama: [interrupts] “I’m not, I’m not saying it, you’re saying it, I’m not saying it…”

Wilcox: “Do you think as long as John Key is the prime minister of New Zealand that there will always be a strained relationship between us?”

Bainimarama: “I’m saying if John Key changed his views on Fiji then things might change.”

Wilcox: “OK, will an invitation again be put to John Key to come see for himself and to listen to these comments that you’re talking of now about government to come see for himself?”

Bainimarama: “Yeah, well, it will be a good thing if New Zealand comes back and has a high commissioner. You don’t have a high commissioner. If we start on that note, then maybe things will get better. But you don’t have a high commissioner, [that] tells us that there’s no recognition from the government of New Zealand.”

At other times in the interview Bainimarama was very defensive.

Wilcox asked him about accusations of a struggling economy, falling tourism and investment, intimidation of the media, churches and opposing political parties in Fiji.

Deathly silence
Bainimarama’s ire started rising. His answers became short, loud and personal, and sometimes he gave us a deathly silence. At this point, I thought we were about to be kicked out of the office, and out of Fiji.

Wilcox: “Does it concern you that there are a number of Fijians who aren’t as confident as you are in the future of this great country?”

Bainimarama: “Does it, does it concern who, who?”

Wilcox: “Does it concern you that people aren’t as confident?”

Bainimarama: “Well, I’m not as worried about those people that are against us. That’s the last thing that is on my mind. If I get worried about those, we will never move forward.”

He has a sharp, sarcastic, wit and throws accusations back at Wilcox. An excellent game of one-upmanship.

Wilcox asked Bainimarama if he had a message for Fijians living in New Zealand.

“Well, my message to them would be: nothing has changed in Fiji, it’s still Fiji,” Bainimarama said. “The way the world should be, that’s how we advertise Fiji. But we’re doing what we need to bring about the reforms that would make Fiji prosper, that would bring Fiji into a modern state. That’s what we’re trying to do here, so bear with us.”

Bainimarama says the government only censors irresponsible journalism. He got very personal about the Fiji Times editor-in-chief, Netani Rika, who accused Bainimarama of intimidation.

When the cameras were on, Bainimarama denied intimidating Rika. But when the cameras were turned off, he revealed the true extent of it.

He told us: “I did speak to Netani Rika. I rang him and do you want to know why I rang him?”

Wilcox replied: “Yes.”

“I rang him because he’d written an article that threatened my family.” And then Bainimarama went on to talk about his daughter and son-in-law.

“That’s why I rang him.”

We went to Fiji’s media for their perspective on the military regime. They spoke to us about it, but were very, very cautious about what they said.

Netani Rika told us he would continue to oppose any government interference of his newspaper, the Fiji Times.

Throughout the interview it was evident interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama believes in the reforms he’s forcing on Fiji, using military might to achieve it.

Bainimarama never told us why he thinks he has the right to do it and why he is the man for the job. But we left the office and Fiji with our tapes and a broader perspective of the complexities in Fjii.

Carmen Parahi is senior reporter for Native Affairs on Māori Television.  The Bainimarama interview will screen on Native Affairs on Monday night at 8pm.

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  1. Mike, 14. September 2009, 21:52

    I’ve watched numerous interviews of Julian with local politician and have been impressed, however I think that this interview with the puppet master has to be his worst. Either he was intimidated or just being bullied I don’t know. It was disappointing that the hard question about the recent findings of Amnesty International was never raised and everytime the puppet master looked like he was unconfortable Wilcox pulled back.
    Good on you for taking the time and effort. The puppet master did not disappoint though as he was his usual self with his nonsensical ideas about how to run a govt and his version of media freedom, print anything as long as it does not disagree with his views.

  2. Thakur Ranjit Singh, 15. September 2009, 10:02

    We must give credit where it is due, hats off to Julian Wilcox for having the courage to go in the lion’s den and come out with pride. Pride beacuse the Maori TV has shown the path to the mainstream NZ media to take its head out of the sand ( Ostrich Syndrome) and go and report on Fiji and not to lecture us on democracy which Fiji never really had. NZ Herald and The Dominion need to get real to fulfill their journalistic responsibility to NZ people who have to go to blogsites or ethnic media to get the real picture of Fiji. The mainstream media in NZ have to shed off its Anglo Saxon enthnocentry and be able to be expedient to get an opportunity to put its foot in the door of the lion’s den and report what things are like on the ground in Fiji. That is what Julian Wilcox and his team did, a small but very significant step.

    At least despite with military rule, it is much safer in Fiji right now than in Christchurch , which is fast turning into the murder and mugging city of NZ

  3. Bubu, 15. September 2009, 13:21

    Thakur if you feel so safe in Fiji why don’t you go and live there. Again as I said before Thakur is a well known apologist for the Fiji coupsters and it is insulting to us the natives of Fiji that he takes it upon himself to say he represents the people of Fiji’s opinion. Puhlease !

    Julian shame on you – u did not ask the hard ones of Bainimarama. As a journo I would have expected you to raise the Amnesty Report and not have backed away from the inane retorts of the illegal usurper of Fiji. It was clear that Julian either wasnt briefed properly or just cowered away. It was painful to watch and you did no favours for us the tagata whenua of Fiji

  4. RAJIV, 16. September 2009, 0:23



  5. Thakur Ranjit Singh, 16. September 2009, 9:49

    Bubu, I am stuck in NZ because of family obligations, will catch the first plane out to live in my cane farm and farmhouse in Rarawai, Ba when I am ready. I am somewhat lucky, as we have Schedule C land (formerly FSC Freehold) which is purely crown and hopefully will not be grabbed by NLTB, ( like they did to Schedula A and B) so I still have my “home”in Fiji relatively secure, unlike my neighbours in Veisaru, Namada, and nearby areas where Fijian landowners have confiscated lush green cane farms which are now overgrown with jungle. This is just because of sheer jealousy and politicising of sugar industry and land. What has your Qarase ( I consider you a Qarase apologist) and his democratic government done for the largest taxpayers in Fiji-the Indo Fijians. Is that what democracy is all about?

    When a person says that “I would rather be a dog in America than an Indian in Fiji”, that means democracy has failed, and what Bainimarama did is to rescue Fiji from a supposedly democratic ethno-nationalist Qarase regime.

  6. Nitya, 16. September 2009, 13:09

    Who was that confused idiot ratu epeli nailitakau on that maori tv panel?

    every question he tried to answer by reference to God.

    he said nothing of any significance.

    the only thing he proved was that like his cassonova namesake in fiji , he is just hollow and useless.