Pacific Scoop

Independent Fiji magazine editor raps local media and ‘silent’ USP

Pacific Media Watch’s Daniel Drageset talks to Repúblika’s editor Ricardo Morris. PMC video

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Daniel Drageset of Pacific Media Watch

Fiji’s independent Repúblika magazine editor Ricardo Morris has given a blistering attack on the state of a “free press” in a wide-ranging interview with the regional monitoring Pacific Media Watch project.

He has also criticised the University of the South Pacific over failing to front up for an interview with his magazine after a controversial gag on a former USP professor over a speech planned for the  World Press Freedom Day event last month.

According to Repúblika magazine, economics scholar Professor Wadan Narsey was removed from speaking at the World Press Freedom Day event on May 3 under instructions from USP management.

Wadan Narsey

Professor Wadan Narsey … gagged. Image: NITV

Professor Narsey had initially been invited by the USP Journalism Students Association to the event.

He intended to deliver a scathing speech where he would accuse the owners of mainstream media in Fiji to have a detrimental effect on content, and where he would claim that freedom of expression in Fiji today is severely limited.

USP ‘obstruction’
Ricardo Morris was present at the World Press Freedom Day event at USP. In an interview with Pacific Media Watch, he explained that he knew something had been “going on”, but said no one would speak to him about it.

Later, Morris received an email from Professor Narsey explaining he had been “disinvited”. This prompted the editor to contact USP for an interview, but he was met by an organisation that only seemed to obstruct his requests:

“The Vice-Chancellor directed me to the School Responsible, the School Responsible…the Head of School wouldn’t reply to my questions, neither would the journalism school, neither would the journalism association’s president.

“I just thought that it’s the height of irony that on a day to mark world press freedom, you know even if there wasn’t anything sinister, it was quite significant that he was disinvited, and I thought that they should at least have the courtesy to respond to questions and gone on the record.”

He underlines though that he was in contact with Professor Sudesh Mishra, who is head at the School of Language, Arts and Media at USP.

Professor Mishra told Morris that Narsey’s removal from the World Press Freedom Day event did not have anything to do with “academic freedom”. But he declined to say why the economics scholar was denied the opportunity to speak at the event.

Mishra also declined to take part in an interview.

Pacific Media Watch has also been in contact with the head of the Journalism Programme at USP, Dr Ian Weber, and Professor Sudesh Mishra without being granted an interview. Weber referred PMW to Mishra, who declined to be interview.

Comments published
After having been met by nothing but refusals from USP, Morris came to the conclusion that he had to do something.

“That’s when I decided that it would only be prudent to publish [Narsey’s] speech in full,” he explained.

Professor Wadan Narsey’s full speech at the World Press Freedom Day event can be read at Repúblika magazine and also on Cafe Pacific.

Ricardo Morris

Ricardo Morris … critical of the silence. Image: Twitter

Morris has trouble understanding why USP refused to be interviewed.

“I cannot figure [this] out for the life of me. Maybe they were really busy, maybe they didn’t see my email, but I can’t figure out how, because I followed up several times as well. Maybe they just didn’t want to draw any more attention to the fact that they had been involved in what many would call censorship of academic freedom or freedom of speech.”

The editor does not rule out that the USP’s reaction may be due to Professor Narsey’s opinions.

“Professor Wadan Narsey is an outspoken academic on development in Fiji,” Morris said, and claimed USP always has been wary of him because of his “forthright views”.

Narsey is a former professor of economics at USP, and a prolific commentator on social and political issues facing Fiji and the Pacific.

Fiji press freedom
The Repúblika magazine editor backs up Narsey on all of his statements, but makes one reservation.

“I think to some extent journalists themselves, too, know what they’re doing and they will self-censor themselves.

“It may not be completely true to blame everything on the corporate owners, because I think individual journalists themselves know and take a conscious decision to censor themselves sometimes.”

Daniel Drageset is Pacific Media Watch’s contributing editor.

The full Ricardo Morris audio interview and transcript

How media ownership in Fiji chokes the watchdog

Source: Pacific Media Watch 8337