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Many more Fiji media questions need answers

Vijendra Kumar of the Fiji Times ... few Indo-Fijian editors since. Photo: Pacific Journalism Review

Vijendra Kumar of The Fiji Times ... few Indo-Fijian editors since his era. Photo: Pacific Journalism Review

Pacific.Scoop
Opinion – By Thakur Ranjit Singh

The launch of the long awaited and anticipated special edition of Fijian Studies research journal is seen as a breath of fresh air for Fiji news media. It was appropriately devoted to media and “the struggle for democracy in the past 20 years”.

It is interesting for the reason that its guest editors, University of the South Pacific academics, Professor Biman Prasad and Shailendra Singh, have raised many pertinent questions that have been bugging the general public for a long time. But more worrying are the questions that yet remain unasked, let alone answered.

The journal was launched in Suva last week, a year after the cover date (November 2008) and six months after the regime imposed censorship.

The pertinent questions raised about the extent the media had a role in derailing Fiji’s democracy and to what extent Fiji media became bosom buddy to one  government and not to the other. While questions have been raised about media ownership, few have been raised about editorial control.

While it is accepted that Fiji society is ruptured, I add that it is ruptured on racial lines. When demographic make up has never made it easy being a journalist in Fiji, why has nobody had the courage to ask about the racial make up of newsrooms, especially who controls the news content?

Has anybody dared to ask why since the unceremonious removal of Vijendra Kumar as editor of The Fiji Times by first coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, and one at the Daily Post by the Laisenia Qarase government, Indo-Fijians in influential control of any new media in Fiji have been few and far between.

Prasad and Singh must be commended for recognising the constraints of impartial and neutral reporting by Fiji journalists because of their different racial and religious groups, which make them vulnerable and prone to their own biases, as well as pressures from their own communities.

The issue of younger and untrained and poorly educated journalists is relevant. One very important issue that has been raised by Professor Brij Lal has not even been asked by anybody: How many journalists are the “children of 1987” who themselves, their parents or relatives in the past had benefited from the freebies, goodies and favourable policies granted under an unfair affirmative system by indigenous governments, where beneficiaries were not necessarily the poor deserving Fijians but the ones in power and control.

Resented change
How many of them see the changes brought about in the 2006 coup as an element of resentment for this purpose rather than any high moral ground?

While some now blame media gagging for hindering investigative journalism, the question that goes begging is why have not Fiji media dug deeper on allegations of abuse at Fijian Holdings Limited or by the Duavata Initiative group? Then there was no gag on the media.

One assistant minister in the Qarase administration publicly admitted to committing sedition on national television, yet, instead of being reprimanded, he was made a full minister a month after the confession. One is left wondering where was that supposedly free media which we then had?

Whose interests were the media protecting by remaining silent on such issues relating to gross abuse and extreme cases of poor governance? There are numerous others.

One interesting question raised has already been answered by Padmini Gounder (p. 250) in this edition and also by at least three other works done by various postgraduate researchers. The question is: Is media in Fiji really a force for good, or is it the hand maiden of a few powerful, vested interest?

Regarding The Fiji Times, Padmini Gounder, together with at least three other research reports, have named at least one mainstream Fiji print media to be serving the interests of the powerful vested interests. Gounder has accused The Fiji Times for doing little to foster a sense of nationhood among its readers, especially the youth of Fiji.

She also raised a very sensitive subject that has also come under scrutiny by another article in this publication. That relates to the People’s Coalition’s accusation that The Fiji Times contributed to destabilising the country and indirectly gave a hand to the overthrow of the Chaudhry government in May 2000.

Gounder accused the leaders of Fiji after independence of lacking the foresight to take effective preventive action of balancing the equation of a foreign-owned monopoly paper by establishing and fostering a locally owned truly national newspaper. By failing to take effective action in this regard, the leadership of Fiji failed to ensure that one of the vital ingredients for making democracy durable and sustainable, a committed press, was missing in Fiji.

As a member of the Fiji Media Council in 2000 and as publisher of the Daily Post, I could not understand the reason for hostility from some Anglo-Saxon expatriates towards Dr David Robie, who I had regarded as a valuable friend of Fiji media as head of USP’s Pacific journalism school.

Seeking scrutiny
It was not until I had read his thought-provoking “media and the putsch” article (which appears in this journal on p. 271), that I realised he had sought accountability from Fiji media which, while seeking it from others, were not themselves prepared to be under any scrutiny.

In this article, The Fiji Times is brought under scrutiny, like Gounder did, for allegedly abdicating its journalistic responsibilities in supporting the influential powerful interests in destablising the Chaudhry government.

Republishing of the article as a retrospective after almost a decade (it was not published in Fiji at the time) shows the politics around the Fiji Media Council and how some media interests ganged up on an academic who was seeking to raise journalistic and media education standards of the country.

It also revealed the step-fatherly treatment given by Fiji media owners to the growth and development of media education in Fiji. It appears little has changed and the USP journalism school is still struggling to gain better recognition, not only from the Fiji media industry, but also from USP administration as well as donor agencies.

In the latter regard, it was an interesting comment on the attitude of the Australian government to derail USP’s media education, initially supported and encouraged by the French government.

What foreign aid sense does it make for the Australian government to support another media education programme at the Fiji Institute of Technology when one consolidated and well-resourced would be good for Fiji?

The one at USP has international–level infrastructure but underused and still struggling to gain enough recognition and resources for effectively adding adequately to ill trained school-leaver journalists in Fiji who appear to be copping the blame for current problems with Fiji media.

Nevertheless, the Fijian Studies journal, with excellent writers with valuable contributions, will stimulate further discussion for a long time. Hopefully we can seek answers to questions that have not yet been raised.

This edition will make a valuable collection to the literature on the trials and tribulations of the Fiji media.

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

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Fijian Studies
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1 comment:

  1. Bharat Jamnadas, 20. October 2009, 15:14

    It is misleading to say that Vijendra Kumar was unceremoniously removed as editor of The Fiji Times by first coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka had no doubt shut down the print media( The Fiji Times and Fiji Sun) for a period of time straight after doing the second coup in 1987. I was senior reporter at The Fiji Times at that time. When both papers resumed publication a few months later Vijendra Kumar continued as editor. He resigned in 1991 and emigrated to Australia. I had been away in New Zealand during the time and when I returned to resume my job Vijendra Kumar decided not to re-hire me. It would be correct to say I was unceremoniously removed as senior reporter of The Fiji Times. Even the publisher was surprised it happened. That makes it another Fiji media question which remains unanswered.