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Misinformed media leads by the nose

Sean Plunket is a former Radio New Zealand broadcaster and one of New Zealand’s most celebrated, informed, seasoned and award-winning journalists known for his sharp and probing questions.

He has many feathers in his journalism cap and heads the current affairs programme, The Nation on TV 3 in New Zealand. He has also ‘demolished’ many politicians.

Therefore his interview with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s controversial Attorney General (made famous by the utterances of former military fugitive Tevita Mara), was anticipated with enthusiasm and looked upon as ‘another killing.’

However, those who saw the interview were pleasantly surprised at the performance of Mr Khaiyum. Plunket appeared lost, rattled and defensive in front of a well-prepared, composed and smiling Attorney General.

Mr Khaiyum gave a Third World lesson on Democracy.

“Hitler came to power through elections. What a government does after it is elected also matters. Just because it has been elected, it does not mean that they are suddenly democratic; what they do with the power is essential,” he said.

When accused that Fiji was engaging more strongly or more proactively with countries like China, he retorted saying that Fiji had not discriminated against any government.

“In fact, we are fully engaging with anybody who wants to engage with us. Just treat us as equals. You need to understand what the Fijian situation is. We are engaging with all the countries, except Australia and New Zealand from their side, but they are not willing to listen to us. They do not even want to sit down at the same table,” he said.

Constructive Engagement

He said elections in Fiji would be held by September 2014.

Plunket did well to cover many diverse subjects in the 15-minute segment for the New Zealand audience, which is starved of information on Fiji.

Mr Khaiyum filled this vacuum on the election date, relations with China, Tevita Mara, corruption, judiciary, the New Zealand Law Society allegations, military repression, emergency regulations, land and vision for Fiji.

Before Plunket could accuse Fiji of any wrongdoing, Mr Khaiyum had his ammunition ready. He attacked the New Zealand media, fielding a question on the level of sophistication achieved by Fiji to deserve freedom and democracy.

“I would argue that at the moment the way your journalism is taking place in your country, lacks sophistication. In fact it is very rudimentary, the sort of questions we get asked, the sort of answers that are formulated even beforehand,” he said.

It would appear the attack on media was not without reason.

The panel selected by Plunket and TV3 to deliberate on the interview lacked proper understanding and appreciation on Fiji.

Matthew Hooton, National Business Review Columnist, echoed sentiments about double standards of New Zealand, cited by this writer earlier.

Blatant hypocrisy!

Hooton said that the problem in Fiji had been going on for some decades with little headway, implying that the policies of New Zealand and Australia had either failed or become irrelevant.

“New Zealand deals with many countries that are not democratic and does not have free press; we have signed world’s first Free Trade Agreement with China; we deal with Thailand (a country in which the military plays a very big role) as an economic partner in APEC,” he said.

Simon Wilson, Editor of Metro Magazine supported a long-term stability in Fiji.

“It is very hard to see how that can happen until there is a period of long-term democratic government.” The information that he appeared to lack was that Fiji had democracy for 17 years after its independence in 1970 under the leadership of Sir Kamisese Mara of the Alliance Party. No sooner had Sir Kamisese’ s Alliance Party and the eastern Chiefs lost power to Timoci Bavadra’s Labour Party in 1987, than it was declared by the Fijian nationalist elements that democracy was a foreign flower in Fiji.

As long as Mara and the Eastern Fijian Chiefs were in control, the 1970 Constitution and Democracy were acceptable. When they lost power, it became unsuitable. Fiji had lost the ultimate test of democracy, with its inability to change leaders and governments in a democratic fashion. This deficiency was exposed in the 1987 and 2000 coups.

Misreporting hurts

Barry Soper, Political Editor of Newstalk ZB appeared equally misinformed on Fiji, by brandishing the race card. Twice in his comments, he said that the reason coup was carried against Timoci Bavadra’s Government in 1987 was that Bavadra had too many Indians in his Cabinet.

What he failed to tell was that the party, led by a Fijian, had equal, if not majority ethnic representation but saw indigenous power shift to Western part of Fiji.

The coup was meant to wrest political control and pass the power back to the right-wing Fijian group, which ultimately eventuated, with Sir Kamisese and the Eastern chiefs back in power. The 1987 coup had more to do with intra-ethnic Fijian issues than inter Indian-Fijian issues.

Soper again displayed his lack of knowledge on Fiji by saying that it was Mr Khaiyum who was pushing for one equal vote for everyone.

“Timothy Bavadra included too many Indians in his cabinet and this man (Khaiyum], obviously an Indian, wants one vote for everyone. That will not happen because Fijians in the villages will not be happy with the Indians in control.”

This electoral change was the initiative of (Commodore Frank) Bainimarama, an indigenous Fijian and not Indo-Fijian Khaiyum. Indo Fijians comprise 35% of Fiji population. With the indigenous population accounting for most military personnel and bureaucracy, Soper’s comments defied logic.

TV3 should realise that with lack of diversity in the New Zealand media, Anglo-Saxon journalists are not necessarily experts on Fiji.

A journalism degree and New Zealand experience alone would not bestow that expertise. The media needs journalists who understand the politics of the Pacific particularly Fiji.

All the commentators failed on this count, although Hooton emerged as the most logical and lateral thinker.

Blinkered versions, echoed by the mainstream media, distort Kiwis’ understanding of Fiji and its foreign policy. Nevertheless, kudos to Plunket and TV3 for their initiative in providing an interview that should be a lesson on Fiji issues.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator, with personal knowledge and experience of the 1987 coup and was the Publisher of Daily Post newspaper during the 2000 coup. He was the Pacific Islands Media Association postgraduate scholar at the AUT University in 2009/10.

Visit http://www.3news.co.nz/Fiji-not-out-to-please-NZ—Attorney-General/tabid/417/articleID/216452/Default.aspx

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