Pacific Scoop

Inside ‘sources’, blogs, the media and politicians – the Fiji spectrum saga

The Fiji Sun splashes the Attorney-General's statement "balancing" the Australia/NZ media coverage.

The Fiji Sun splashes the Attorney-General's statement "balancing" the Australia/NZ media coverage.

Opinion – By Crosbie Walsh

It all started a month or so ago when Streamcom NZ was hired to review the use of Fiji’s airwaves.

The Fiji government was concerned about airwave efficiency and suspected earlier underhand dealings in their allocation.

They must also have been aware — but not necessarily influenced by knowing — that the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBCL)  wanted an entry to TV and that Mai TV, recently awarded the 2010 Soccer World Cup television rights, could only reach some urban areas using UHF.

They needed a VHF channel to cover Fiji.

D-Day. Thursday, 12 November: The President signed the National Spectrum Decree (No.48 of 2009). Its purpose  (clause 6a) was the fair allocation of airwaves to ensure economic efficiency, competition, and the public and national interest.  Current licensees were to continue operating on existing frequencies until actual airwave use and needs was determined.

For the record, this was not the only Decree promulgated this month, although readers might think so. The foreign media published nothing on the Liquor, Income Tax, Gambling, Fiji Trust Fund, Crimes (making male customers of prostitutes equally wrong) Decrees, or the announced Child Welfare Decree which were all the product of an “illegal” President and regime.

When the foreign media finally picked up the spectrum story on Saturday 21st, following two Coupfourpointfive blog postings on Thursday 19 (see below), only the possibly negative clauses were mentioned (no compensation to licensees if channels were changed or cancelled; no right of court appeal [decrees are laws; laws can be repealed but not appealed in any counry]; a fine or prison for non-compliance; the increased power of Sayed-Khaiyum (who happens to be the minister responsible);and the possibly anti-democratic use of disclosed frequency information).

Bearing in mind Winston Churchill’s warning, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” let us see what followed.

Saturday 14th: Radio Fiji reports on the Decree, with Khaiyum’s explanations. Geographical Media publishes the Decree.

Sunday 15th: FijiLive refers indirecly to the Decree (“improvement of info-commercial infrastructure.”)

Tuesday 17th: Fiji TV reports the Decree on its 6pm news.  There’s still no mention by anti-government blogs or the foreign media.

Thursday 19th, 8:14pm: Auckland-based blog Coupfourpointfive publishes “Analsyis of National Spectrum Decree” based on what its [inside Fiji] “sources say.” In addition to the negatives cited above and the assumed benefits to FBC (whose chief executive is the younger brother of the Minister Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum), the blog says disclosure of airwave fequency details will allow the government to “eavesdrop” on all telecommunications.

Friday 20th, 8:42am: Coupfourpointfive publishes “NZ Firm Carried Out Spectrum Study” stating that Streamcom has no expertise in this area. Wellington-based blog Fiji Coup2006 publishes the Coupfourpointfive item at 1:32pm.

Saturday 21th (but Friday, 20th, US time): Blog Raw Fiji News writes of “the sudden and until now unreported promulgation” (sic!) and publishes the Coupfourpointfive post. Also in the US, blog FijiNews.ning publishes the Raw Fiji News item.

Saturday 21th (in Fiji, Australia and NZ): The Fiji Sun prints Khaiyum’s “Get Your Facts Right” address to Australia and NZ leaders. (The online edition did not appear until Monday but the ANZ High Coms should have been able to contact Canberra and Wellington before this.)

At 2:20pm, FijiLive publishes “State to Regulate Telecom Providers” that briefly mentions the Spectrum Decree’s “rationalisation.”

Noon, Australian EST: The Rupert Murdoch-owned The Australian publishes Rowan Callick’s “Fiji Strips Licences from Broadcasters”. Callick repeats the negatives mentioned above, cites Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith repeating the same negatives: the Attorney-General’s “absolute power” (Khaiyum is actually the minister responsible); no appeal to courts; “effectively seizing” the licences; no compensation; five years jail; FBC will gain at expense of Fiji TV — that is owned by Yasana Holdings that “represents the 14 ethnic Fijian provinces” (sic!)

3:45pm: Melbourne’s Herald Sun (another Murdoch paper) reports Smith saying it’s a “very bad sign”; Khaiyum can strip broadcasters licences “at whim,” and he’ll raise the new Fiji situation at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Trinidad on Tuesday.

7:38pm: NZ’s Pacific Scoop publishes The Australian story via Pacific Media Watch.

9:16pm: Radio NZ does the same.

Sunday 22nd (but Saturday 21st in the US): At 7:19am: Fiji Today publishes “Fiji Radio Spectrum Nationalised” and quotes from The Australian.

Sunday 22nd (in Fiji, Australia and NZ): At 6:31am: RadioNZ cites The Australian and Smith’s remarks.

12:48pm: Coupfourpointfive copies and publishes Callick’s The Australan article via AAP.

2:30pm: Radio NZ reported “NZ ‘Disturbed’ at Reports of Fiji Media Clampdown”. The item, circulated  by Pacific Media Watch, reported the NZ government was “disappointed” with the “revocation” of broadcastng licences; quoted Smith’s earlier remarks; said that Fiji media had to “justify” their airwave use; quoted Khaiyum (“It’s to plan a future better use..”); cited Foreign Minister McCully spokesman (“it’s determined to limit any public criticism”); said Media Freedom Committee spokesman Tim Pankhurst wanted more pressure on Fiji; to conclude with Australian media “Fiji’s TV and radio broadcast this weekend on a temporary basis.” [As if they were all to be put off air any minute.]

4:34pm: NewsTalkZB reported McCully as disappointed and saying Khaiyum’s explanation “doesn’t wash.” Pacific Media Watch published Saturday’s Herald Sun report.

Monday, 23rd: Fiji Today in the US (Sunday, 10:45am) reported Radio NZ’s “Clampdown” item. Fiji Sun online published Khaiyum’s “Get Your Facts Right” item.

Khaiyum said ANZ were making “false allegations and misleading comments” and urged them to read the Decree. He said spectrum allocations would follow a tender process that will “complement Government’s objective of transparency and accountability and minimise corruption”.

6:59am: Radio NZ in “No Threat to Freedom of Expression in Fiji” reports Communications Fiji, that has 60 percent of the Fiji radio market, CEO William Parkinson as saying he “does not fear anything sinister. The haphazardly-managed airwaves are due for a shake-up.”

Canterbury University’s Jim Tully, however, said government control of airwaves threatened freedom of speech, especially in remote [sic!] island nations such as Fiji which rely heavily on broadcast media.”

Radio Australia's Pacific Beat item on the Fiji spectrum licences.

Radio Australia's Pacific Beat item on the Fiji spectrum licences.

10:08am EST: An ABC interview with John Westland of Radio Australia “Interim Fiji Government Revokes Broadcasting Licences” had Westland talk of the “taking away of licences” and it having more to do with “who gets a licence,” before he went on to say: “Frankly [with so little detail] we just don’t know.”

Much of the interview is repeated on the Radio Australia News at 1pm EST.

12:20pm: FijiCoup2006 publishes Khaiyum’s Fiji Sun item.

7:11pm: FijiLive does likewise – “denies muzzling media freedom.. [wants] an efficient system.”

Pacific Media Watch reports that Fiji Mai TV welcomes the Decree. CEO Richard Broadbridge said they’d applied for a VHF licence nearly two years ago but had had to use UHF even though one broadcaster had more VHF channels than needed.

He called the Decree “a step in the right direction to ensure all broadcasters are treated fairly, and that TV and radio stations are available to users easier and cheaper.”

8pm: FijiCoup2006 reprints the AAP on Smith saying the Decree was “a very bad signal”  and did not remove the error about the “14 ethnic Fijian provinces.”

And since some will think me “bad” for publishing this, and “There’s no denying that if you think them bad, they are bad and nothing they say or do will convince you otherwise,” three more bad thoughts won’t hurt: Who are Coupfourpointfive’s inside sources? Are they journalists like themselves?  How is it that Rowan Callick and The Australian get so much inside information from Fiji?

Is it merely coincidental that The Fiji Times, The Australian and the Herald Sun are all owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp which also owns major papers in every Australian city, Wellington’s Dominion Post, and, incidentally, the Wall Street Journal and The Times?

And they talk of power, and control of the media!

Monday 23rd: At about 12:00pm (US) Solivakasamablog asks “Is there a Muslim conspiracy occurring in Fiji? (with the two Khaiyums, two Shameems and Aziz involved)….How can Indigenous Fijians sit and watch while these evil people tear their beloved Fiji apart?” and then reprinted Saturday’s Herald Sun story. A reader writes of Al Qaeda cells!

About 9pm (US): Solivakasama reprints Saturday’s The Australian article, and under a heading “All Talk No Action for Oinklets” says he “can’t wait to see the boys from Delainabua [military barracks] sink their shiny boots into their [oinklets’] smugness.”

Dr Crosbie Walsh is a retired professor and director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific. Other articles and links are on his Fiji blog.

Fiji answers critics – Radio Australia
International condemnation – Radio Australia