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When the Pacific media is misinformed about democracy Fiji-style

PJR_15_1 _Cover_2009

Cartoon: PJR/Malcolm Evans

Pacific.Scoop
Opinion – By Thakur Ranjit Singh

A recent Fiji Tourism advertisement on Television New Zealand, showing an Indo-Fijian lady doing a salutation Namaskaar in front of the iconic Nadi Temple, is not only unusual but historic as well.

This is because in the so-called pre-coup “democratic Fiji”, the other 40 percent of the population never existed in any tourism promotions and hardly existed under Laisenia Qarase’s democratic regime. They are the persecuted and envied Indo-Fijians.

Indo-Fijians in the Pacific exceed the populations of Samoa, Tonga and the whole of Polynesia and Micronesia put together. Yet when one looks at the role Samoan and Tongan media personnel and journalists play in Fiji affairs, one would assume as if Indo-Fijian journalists – like their absence from tourism brochures and promotions – do not exist in media circles as well.

Indeed, they do not. This is because of ethnic cleansing in a supposedly democratic country. It was with the intention of helping fill that gaping vacuum that I took up postgraduate media studies in Auckland.

While the Indo-Fijian editor of the Fiji Times, Vijendra Kumar, was removed by original coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987; this author – as the Indo-Fijian publisher of the Daily Post, was made redundant by the Qarase regime in 2002 for refusing to bow down to the so-called Lauan Mafia and for exposing the ills of an undeserving Qarase regime under the pseudonym of “Liu Muri”.

Another bold and fearless journalist at the Daily Post, Josephine Prasad, who was caught up in Parliament during George Speight’s 2000 coup, was unceremoniously removed from the paper by Qarase’s cousin Mesake Koroi, because She was becoming too bold in exposing the ills of Qarase regime.

Another promising Indo-Fijian journalist trained at the University of the South Pacific regional journalism school, Mithleshni Gurdayal, also found things at the family-run Daily Post frustrating so she left and now works in India.

None of the other print media, all controlled by indigenous Fijians, allowed any Indo-Fijians to rise up, as has been done in Fiji’s racist civil service under Qarase regime.

Shedding tears
When journalists from Samoa and Tonga have a field day in either Pacific Freedom Forum or other media outlets in shedding tears for a Fiji democracy that failed to deliver social justice, there was no Indo-Fijian journalist in sight to rebut the nonsense coming out from Polynesian countries which themselves are bereft of the democracy they want for Fiji.

Therefore, despite my very deep respect for Kalafi Moala, (the publisher and editor-in-chief of Taimi ‘o Tonga and the Tongan Chronicle,) his opinion and pronouncement of Fiji and Voreqe Bainimarama in Pacific Scoop, (Why Bainimarama will fail in his quest for a ‘reformed Fiji’) if left unchallenged would be an affront to those scholars who call on students of journalism like me to dig deeper.

Bainimarama has removed two very strong divisive Fijian instruments that have been the main reason and cause for the coup culture in Fiji. The two institutions for which Moala shed tears are the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church.

During Speight’s coup, 1997 constitutional architect Dr Brij Lal had the following to say of the Great Council of Chiefs, a supposedly august body:

“Formed by Sir Arthur Gordon soon after Fiji became a crown colony in 1874, it occupied an honoured place in Fijian society as the government’s and the Crown’s principal adviser on indigenous affairs. Sadly it stands today as a diminished body of dithering men and women, confused, partisan, manipulable, unable to exercise their much sought after – and much hoped for – role as the custodians not only of indigenous Fijians but also of Fiji’s broad national interests.

The chiefs have grieviously breached the trust bestowed in them by the nation. They listened to Speight’s pleas for Fijian paramountcy, but there was no place in their deliberations for the voice of a multiethnic democracy and the defence of a Constitution which they themselves had blessed just three years ago.

They have showed themselves to be parochial men and women, bereft of a broader vision, chiefs with a small ‘c’. Unelected, unrepresentative and dominated by chiefs of the east, especially from Speight’s Kubuna confederacy…”

Chiefs saluted
When Indo-Fijian statesman Justice Jai Ram Reddy had addressed this body in the 1990s, he saluted the chiefs as and for being the chiefs of all the people of Fiji, including Indo-Fijians. Unfortunately, this body failed to live up to that expectation, and Bainimarama was perhaps not entirely wrong to say that they are good for drinking home brew under a mango tree.

The chiefs, split on provincial and confederacy lines, many deeply involved in national and local politics (like Ro Teimumu Kepa), have degenerated as chiefs for their confederacy, province and villages. National interest and statesmanship, as evident in Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, escaped their blinkered gaze.

As for the Methodist Church, the biggest casualty of coups in Fiji has NOT been democracy but Christianity, as its shepherds used pulpits to promote racial hatred and used the Bible to bash the non-believers.

To have a better appreciation of Fiji’s Methodist Church, Moala should read the article on the role the Assembly of Christian Churches, led by the Methodist Church played during 2006 election to ensure Qarase’s racist regime won the supposedly democratic elections.

They breached Electoral Regulations by indulging in blatant fundamentalist election campaigning during actual election time. They put the fear of God and catastrophe (like tsunamis and floods) in people and voted for religious and indigenous superiority above democracy. So, I beg to ask the proponents of democracy, what democracy are they talking about?

As far as shedding tears for media, the Fiji Times is celebrating 140 years in Fiji – it was established in Levuka in 1869 – 10 years before Indian indentured labourers came to Fiji.

Human rights abuses
In a history of indenture by Dr Lal, The Violence of Girmit by Professor Vijay Naidu, and untold tear jerking suffering in Rajendra Prasad’s Tears in Paradise, there are numerous tales of gross human rights abuses and exploitation of Indian labourers by the colonists.

Has anybody read any cry from this supposedly revered media for defence of the human rights of ignorant and poor people who were tricked into slavery in Fiji? Is it still continuing to protect the interests of the powerful and the mighty institution?

In academic research done in 2005 on the reporting of the 2000 coup, clear bias of the paper was established where the newspaper was seen to be a proponent of elitist interests, be they commercial or chiefly.

I do not disagree with some of the things Moala has said; especially the rise of fundamentalist new Methodist Church – the “Talibanisation” of Christianity and am totally opposed to persecution of Netani Rika and other media personnel and I am totally opposed to treatment of journalists as exposed in the Amnesty International Report yesterday.

But it needs to be realised that the media in Fiji is not entirely faultless, and especially the race card element in Fiji media needs to be brought under closer scrutiny.

I have one former journalist from one Fiji press here and she has stories of how the Fijian editor picked Fijians for strategic stories and left Indo-Fijians to do insignificant stories.

The disease of racism did not spare Fiji’s newsrooms and its Fijian editors. It is interesting to see more research being done on the Fiji media and I hope that the Fiji media is capable of standing respectfully and unhurt by the escalating academic gaze and interest.

The research that has been done does not portray as holy a picture as many would have wished.

Active politician
Moala’s defence of Ro Teimumu Kepa would have been justified if she was only a chief. No, she is a fully active politician first, and the Methodist Church is the spiritual arm of Qarase’s
Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party (SDL).

When as Minister of Education in Qarase’s cabinet, she imposed an apartheid policy under which the children of rich Fijians could gain free form seven education while destitute children of displaced Indo-Fijian farmers could not get this deserving help because of their race.

Is this the type of democracy Moala and his supporters want for Fiji?

What I sense from Moala’s article is more heat than the light – it is heavy on emotion and weak on facts.

His coming to the defence of Netani Rika in particular and other indigenous Fijians in general is commendable and even understandable. But where were these champions of media and human rights when Indo-Fijians were victimised, robbed, raped, humiliated, persecuted and blatantly discriminated against on grounds of race under a democratic Qarase government that they want back now.

Those outsiders from Fiji and removed from the environment of Fiji’s population and racial mix, and racial politics are no experts in pontificating on issues, about which they have not read widely, had not experienced first hand and hence have little understanding of.

More complex
Fiji’s issue is far wider and deeper than mere media rights, indigenous supremacy, religious freedom and customary systems.

As a former publisher of a Fiji newspaper during the turbulent Speight times and having experienced the wheeling and dealing of racial manipulation at the high places,  this makes one very skeptical and questionable about the model of democracy that outsiders want to impose on Fiji.

Perhaps Moala and others pushing Fiji for democracy should heed this cry from an Indo-Fijian who abandoned his democratic Fiji for the United States:” I would rather be a dog in America than an Indo-Fijian in Fiji”

Is that the model of democracy that Moala and his media supporters want for Fiji? That is the type delivered by Qarase.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post, a political commentator and a postgraduate student in the School of Communication Studies at AUT University. These are his personal views.

1 comment:

  1. Na Dina Fiji Truth, 9. September 2009, 14:08

    Just a quick brief on the nostalgia being dished out here by Fiji Indian journos who claim that Qarase’s government was racist & suppressed Indians in the process – YEAH RIGHT!!! fEELING SORRY FOR ONESELF HUH.

    All one needs is to look at the Fiji Indians in New Zealand, they are ashamed to be linked with any Indigenous Fijians because they have no money and/or lack the knowledge of knowing how to handle money. We belong to a Fiji community group in Aotearoa. We have extended a warm inviting hand to the Fiji Indian Community, majority will not support as they do not wish/or are ashamed to be associated with us.

    So what do they do- they join the Multi Ethnic Council of NZ because they mingle with their kind from Asia as they are all commercially minded. Please stop using the lame excuse that they have no voice in Fijian matters, Some of this group of Fiji Indians have just done the obvious “being a selective “Fiji Indians crying wolves!!!!