Pacific Scoop

‘Parachute journalism’ and the Fiji regime

Fiji's regime leader Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama ... "fed up with indigenous nationalism and cronyism". Photo: CP

Pacific Scoop:
Opinion – By Sanjay Ramesh in Suva

A recent wave of articles – mostly from New Zealand and Australian media – has criticised the direction taken by the Fiji authorities following the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in April 2009.

These articles should be seen as yet another example of “parachute journalism,” where journalists are sent to political trouble spots to compile informed analysis when they have little understanding of the socio-cultural context.

On the face of it, it is claimed that Fiji is under a dictatorship, but Fiji had gone through this path before, so why overseas media and their willing interviewees are surprised and shocked by the unfolding political events in Fiji begs belief.

In 1987, the democratically elected multiracial government led by an indigenous Fijian physician, Dr Timoci Bavadra, was deposed in a bloodless coup by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, who was quickly promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General by the late Governor General of Fiji, Ratu Penaia Ganilau.

In that coup year, Indo-Fijians were a majority in Fiji, and they complained to the international community that an elected government was ousted at gunpoint and democracy was destroyed by indigenous nationalists.

However, the same international community, including Australia and New Zealand, remained largely silent, and policy makers in these countries actually accused the Indo-Fijians of undermining indigenous interests, thus supporting the nationalist position.

At best, both Australia and New Zealand allowed skilled Indo-Fijians to emigrate, and this trend has continued since.

Fast forward
Fast forward 20 years later, and the indigenous Fijians who benefitted from the 1987 coup suddenly found themselves, like their Indo-Fijian counterparts in 1987, under the gun of an indigenous military leader Voreqe Bainimarama, who became fed up with indigenous nationalism and the associated cronyism and patrimony.

The very people who supported the destruction of democracy in favor of indigenous rights in 1987 are now champions of democracy and rule of law, while Indo-Fijians—reduced from close to 48 percent of the population in 1987 to just little under 37 percent in 2006—have transformed into avid supporters of the “undemocratic” actions of the commander.

The contradictions in both these communities are caused by the complex trajectories of history that Australian and New Zealand media are refusing to comprehend and policy makers overseas are adamant to acknowledge.

Hot on a mission to sensationalise and exaggerate Fiji’s political situation, regional media played a major role in the 2000 coup where anti-Indo-Fijian arguments were published in the local press, unchallenged by the Australian and New Zealand journalists, as indigenous thugs held an elected government hostage for 56 days and unleashed unprecedented terror and violence against Indo-Fijians living in rural Fiji.

With unrestricted access to the 2000 coup leader, George Speight, local media created a misguided view that indigenous nationalists were once againreacting to the tyranny of Indo-Fijians and, in particular, their leader, Mahendra Chaudhry.

In 2000, indigenous Fijian traditional institutions—for example, the Great Council of Chiefs—were divided along indigenous confederacy and provincial lines because indigenous cultural logic dictated that chiefs from the provinces involved in the Speight coup supported them, despite the fact that rule of law had been effectively compromised.

The Australian government, which has now taken a moral position on democracy and is deeply worried about the impact of a coup culture in the South Pacific, remained an impotent regional observer, along with its counterpart New Zealand, as Fiji descended into anarchy.

Indigenous establishment
The political establishment that came into power following the Speight coup continued with the agenda of the indigenous nationalists. In 2003, reports surfaced that Bainimarama had become increasingly uncomfortable with the elected government, in particular with its policies to appease indigenous militants. A series of events started over a three-year period resulting in the December 2006 coup.

Initially, the military government attempted to work within the 1997 Constitution, but this position became untenable following the judgment by the Fiji High Court that the 2006 political order established by the 2006 takeover was illegal.

Overseas media alleged on many occasions that Commander Bainimarama executed the coup to scuttle the investigations into the deaths of eight Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers who were allegedly involved in a mutiny at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Suva in November 2000.

These allegations, while sounding quite serious, ignored the fact that there was a bounty on the head of the commander in 2000 for refusing to acquiesce to the demands of the indigenous chiefs who supported the Speight coup. It was a dangerous situation of kill-or-be-killed.

Supporters of the commander rounded up and interrogated the mutineers and their associates, and some interrogations resulted in death. Human rights conventions abhor deaths in custody, but following the events of 2000, there were deep divisions within the army that had the potential for prolonged violent internal conflict.

Moreover, following the 2006 coup, the military discovered a number of irregularities in the manner in which the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) conducted its business with respect to indigenous land.

Much has been written and discussed on the rate of return on indigenous land leased by Indo-Fijian farmers, but a greater and a moreinteresting story relates to the way elected indigenous nationalist governments conducted business with overseas commercial interests with total disregard for indigenous land rights. As a result, the military government “cleaned up” the NLTB.

Corruption probe
There are endless volumes of information compiled by the Fiji Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption that point to past indigenous Fijian leaders exploiting indigenous Fijians and their resources for
personal gains.

The details of official corruption in Fiji make for very dry reading and do not fit into the agendas of Australian and New Zealand media and, as a result, we never hear about them, except claims that “corruption and mismanagement is often overstated by the military to support their own agenda.”

Overseas media are interested in understanding the resilience of indigenous Fijians who have yet to rebel against the Bainimarama regime.

The media hopes to overturn an authoritarian system and in its place establish a nationalist indigenous government based on ethnic division as it existed from 1970 to 2006.

There is no choice for the Indo-Fijians who are currently supporting the Bainimarama government because, on the face of it, the Bainimarama regime has offered a “non-ethnic political solution” while the indigenous nationalists want continuation of “positive discrimination,” as stated in the deposed government’s political manifesto of 2006.

The question is still asked as to why the Fiji regime has suspended freedom of the press indefinitely in Fiji. The answer is quite simple.

The press has, in the past, attempted to instigate ethnic hatred and destabilise the Fiji government. Overseas-owned newspapers in Fiji have continuously emphasised the need for quick elections and democratic rule, but they have yet to make a case for addressing deep-rooted institutional and ethnic problems in divided communities.

Democracy and media
What could be done to cement multiethnic democratic values does not fit within “commercial parameters” of contemporary journalism. Overseas media have little idea of the socio-cultural history of Fiji, including the emphasis on communal politics established by the British colonial rulers to support their indirect rule of the colony.

While many indigenous soldiers have sacrificed themselves for the Commonwealth and the empire and continue to volunteer to fight in failed states like Afghanistan and Iraq and replenish war-weary soldiers from “democratic” nations, there is lack of appreciation on the part of Australia and New Zealand journalists for the complexity of
Fiji’s multidimensional problems.

Past indigenous Fijians as well as Indo-Fijian leaders have failed Fiji because they were interested in protecting their own communal hive.

Since independence of Fiji in 1970, Fiji has oscillated between ethnic conflict and conflict between elected and appointed entities, and these conflicts are yet to be resolved. To argue that democracy is a “magic bullet” that will solve Fiji’s problems is naïve.

Previous initiatives to move Fiji towards a non-ethnic model were comprised by indigenous nationalist assertions, and the current regime should be allowed to implement its reforms without interference.

* Sanjay Ramesh is an adjunct research associate in transforming cultures in Fiji at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is currently completing a research degree on inter-group conflict in Fiji at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.

Source: 6578 Pacific Media Watch
Original Worldpress url


  1. Ron, 6. January 2010, 13:17

    Just another indian apologist for an indian supported coup! Does this Sanjay Ramesh speak for the University of Technology Sydney when he advocates support for a dictator who removed a democratically elected government at the point of a gun, sacked judges who declared his tyranical regime unlawful and committed human rights abuses and murder of Fijians (real ones that is)???
    If Ramesh the coup supporter speaks for UTS Sydney this once credible organisation has a lot to answer for!!!

  2. Patrick Craddock, 6. January 2010, 16:24

    OK Ramesh – so… A great article on Fiji – attacking “Parachute journalists …blah…blah.

    “While many indigenous soldiers have sacrificed themselves for the Commonwealth and the empire”. Great quote!!!

    What empire? And what about the money that the Fijian soldiers get from this work? Does this factor over-ride the love of empire!!!!

    Sure the media upset the politicians – they do so in NZ – the UK –the US – France – and any other democracy you might like to mention. And Murdoch has a reach well beyond Suva, damn him!

    But after Bainimarama has kicked the media in the teeth until they lose their molars – how do we get an intelligent media that analyses the situation with some objectivity?

    I spent four months of my life in 2008 explaining to the public media how the People’s Charter might work. I felt both good and bad about the time there, but the People’s Charter was eventually accepted by the Commodore and he promised to make it work. I would like to see in this New Year 2010 how the People’s Charter is now being implemented. It had great promises – grand words – now we need to verify?

    Just how long is the Commodore entitled to silence, empty smiles and approval of his actions before the protests are sounded in the media about his democratic actions !!!!!!

    I am not sure that ongoing government propaganda is the answer. It doesn’t work in New Zealand or other democracies. Why should it work in the government officers of Suva?

    Today three judges are dismissed – surely even the biased media will be allowed to ask a few questions and then be allowed to publish “ a selection of answers” on why?

    I’d like to see a few answers – and I choose parachute journalism before government handouts or silence.

    Patrick Craddock

  3. Liu Muri, 7. January 2010, 9:31

    Ron, you also appear to as blinkered and jaundiced in your views about Fiji as the mainstream NZ media which is suffering from an acute case of the Ostrich Syndrome. Please read my other comments in this site to get better informed of Fiji’s sham of democracy.

    What do you mean by Indian –supported coup? Fiji Military is 95 % Indigenous Fijians, and same applies to its current Cabinet and people at top places making the coup happen and seeing its succeed. Indeed, you appear to be as gullible and naïve as the NZ and the Australian mainstream media which wrongly believes that an election and the western system of democracy (which has consistently failed Fiji) is the panacea of Fiji’s political instability. You are wrong, mate. You know bugger all about the real Fiji situation and its fundamental problems which can only be solved in Fiji and not by blinkered armchair critics from outside, making unsubstantiated, racist and sweeping generalized statements.

  4. Sanjay Ramesh, 8. January 2010, 19:29

    The lament continues……

    Find it interesting that I am now being labeled apologist for the Bainimarama regime. I wonder where these democrats were hiding for the past twenty three years. Time and time again, indigenous nationalists engineered a constitutional and institutional framework along ethnic lines (1990 stands out as a glaring example).

    The 2006 coup was not engineered by Indo-Fijians but within the indigenous community itself. When Qarase and team attempted to remove Bainimarama first with a tabua and then with the guns, it was downhill from there on. The lesson is that elected governments should not act like unelected thugs because then you create conditions for other unelected actions which result in an undemocratic outcome. The elected indigenous government caused factionalisation and fragmentation among indigenous Fijians and now their supporters are lamenting, lobbying and crying foul.

    Late Dr. Bavadra used Gandhian principle to affect change in the thinking of indigenous nationalists but he failed even though he was the only person in the indigenous community besides individuals like Jone Dakuvula, Akuila Yabaki, late Simione Durutalo who showed unwavering commitment to multiethnic democracy. Those who have lost the perks have now hit the blogs. Welcome to the contradiction I mentioned in my article.