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Racist comments undermine media integrity

Racist comments- Thakur Ranjit Singh.jpgA pertinent issue raised at the Annual General Meeting of the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) held on October 1 at the AUT Conference room appears to have rattled Prime Minister John Key.

This was on October 4, when, Paul Henry, in his popular, though at times controversial TV1 (of TVNZ) Breakfast programme repeated the issue.

During the panel discussion on media standards, I voiced my concern about the slowness of the ‘browning’ of the mainstream New Zealand media newsrooms saying that this failed to reflect the changing colour of the country. Other panellists, including New Zealand Herald Reporter Vaimoana Tapaleao, Radio New Zealand Reporter Richard Pamatatau and Newstalk ZB Newsreader Niva Retimanu concurred, emphasising the need for encouraging positive developments in this area.

Verbal Hypocrisy

It is the lack of diversity that tends to create stereotypes where the mainstream media like New Zealand Herald still tend to call the New Zealand-born Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand as ‘Indian’ or’ Indo Fijian’ without ever referring to the Jewish ancestry of Mr Key.

This appears to be the case with TVNZ as well. Mr Henry asked Mr Key (on his Breakfast programme on October 4) whether Sir Anand was a New Zealander and whether he (Mr Key) would pick someone who “looked more like a New Zealander” next year.

What does it take for a “brown” person to become a New Zealander, and why is Sir Anand, who was born, raised, educated and served in New Zealand is still an ‘Indian,’ ‘Indo-Fijian’ or ‘Pacific,’ while Mr Key is no longer a Jew but a New Zealander?

Do you need to be a white or Anglo Saxon to qualify as a New Zealander?

How does a New Zealander look like, anyway?

So long as the New Zealand media remains relatively ‘white,’ we will continue to get such blinkered views from journalists who only see things in the conservative black and white situations, as does Mr Henry.

The future of better race relations in New Zealand hinges on better-informed, well-balanced, and diversified newsrooms with sensitivities for different ethnicities increasingly populating this nation.

Fiji Bashing

The other contentious issue raised at the PIMA panel discussion was the accusation of “Fiji bashing” by organisations including the Pacific Media Association (known as (Pasima).

The issue of claims against Fiji by those media-owners, who have little understanding of Fiji, was also raised during the discussions.

In his speech in Vienna, Savea Sano Malifa, founder of Samoan Observer and the Chairman of Pasima, reportedly made some erroneous statements about Fiji without knowing the facts. Just like Auckland based Journalist Michael Field, who in his ‘Swimming with Sharks’ wrongly attributed tension in Fiji to the conflict between the Polynesians and the Melanesians, Malifa was wrong and mischievous in attributing Fiji’s problems to the poverty of the indigenous people, compared to the wealth of the immigrants.

It would be interesting to know what Malifa knows about Fiji. How can he classify me and my Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters as immigrants? They are as much immigrants to Fiji as Mr Key and (former Prime Minister) Helen Clark are to New Zealand.

Further, how can people who own 90% of all Fiji’s land be called poor?

Does Malifa know the difference between the poorer Indo Fijians and the rich business community in Fiji that gives a misconception of the rich Indians?

Lip Service

It is because of such misinformation and ignorance with which some Pacific media treat Fiji that I raised the issue about media standards, especially from the owners of the media in the Pacific.

Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala had stated that the Fiji based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) was not doing anything regarding censorship in Fiji, which was why, Pasima was formed.

In that case, why did PINA adopt what can be described as ‘a pragmatic approach’ to press control in Fiji.

In answer to a question whether he would comply with the censorship laws, the new publisher of Fiji Times Dallas Swinstead replied: Well, with due respect that is a dumb question. Of course, I will. What is the point in having a newspaper shut down?

Perhaps that is the answer PINA needs to give to Pasima about its pragmatism.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator on Fiji issues and a postgraduate student in Communication Studies at AUT. Email: thakurji@xtra.co.nz

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