Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues -

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

Read the rest of this entry »


On Useful Idiots and Dictatorships ~ Part One ~ UpDate

March 25, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

“Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend.”

Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1390

“If you’re going to sup with the Devil, you’d better bring a long spoon.”

UpDate ~ April 10, 2011

The London School of Economics (LSE) has set up a Site which contains its version and position on the Gaddafi Libyan funding scandal.

On my reading, typical of the very carefully worded official statements of this kind which really doesn’t fully explain or defend their ‘constructive engagement’ with the Libyan regime.

It does contain a Link to a personal statement by Prof David Held.

Meanwhile, Dr Anne Corbett, an honorary LSE Visiting Fellow, reflects on Fred Halliday’s vision of what a university ought to be and do, drawing from a 1998 lecture of his she attended. This has universal resonance.

UpDate – March 31, 2001

While Prof David Held hasn’t directly responded to Prof John Keane’s Open Letter – see below & links (at least as far as I know; always open to being proven wrong with supporting evidence) – Anthony Barnett, co-founder of Open Democracy, and a friend of the late Fred Halliday (who argued vigorously and unsuccessfully against LSE taking money from the Gaddafi regime) – does canvas the issues with this Post – Fred Halliday, David Held, the LSE and the independence of universities.

… the argument was not a dispute about whether or not to enter a “critical dialogue” with Saif. I never knew Fred Halliday decline a critical dialogue with anybody. The dispute was over what risks the LSE should be taking. Having a “critical dialogue” with Saif is one thing. Taking the regime’s money through him and then having him give a Miliband lecture is another. The more you have dialogue with representatives of a tyranny’s ruling clan, the more important it is not to be beholden to them. This was the warning Halliday repeatedly put.

Even now Held remains deaf to it, it seems, by suggesting that Saif never was a representative and his money was not official. As evidence for his belief in Saif’s “independence” from his father’s regime Held writes that Saif “turned down a number of offers to work directly at the heart of the regime”.

Original Post continues -

While following developments in the Middle East, including the continuing horrors in Libya, I’ve occasionally come across the continuing controversy surrounding the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and its fairly recent engagement with Libya.

Saif al-Gaddafi at LSE

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme broadcast an excellent wrap story, entitled ‘Monster Makeover’ which brought together many of the elements of the rehabilitation of Libya in the closing years of the Blair Government, including touching on the LSE controversy. Well worth a look, and then catch up on the deeper, murkier, details of this significant angle to the continuing Libya story.

On February 25, 2011, BBC TV’s Newsnight programme also explored the connections between Saif Gaddafi and LSE.

The Guardian offers an entry point into this issue. The (London) Telegraph probes deeper into ‘The Real Scandal at the LSE‘. The Daily Mail adds a very good diagram of the webs of influence between the Gaddafi regime, LSE, and elements of the British intelligence community.

Sir Howard Davies fmr. LSE Director

By no means do I claim to be fully across all the details of the LSE business, which are now under external investigation, and which led to the resignation of LSE director, Sir Howard Davies, but I was drawn to look a bit closer by two posts to the British-based Blog and comment site, Open Democracy, which I follow quite closely.

It’s much deeper and murkier than just a very public spat between prominent intellectuals, spiced by its site, a prestigious British higher education institution almost at the Ox-Bridge level, or grievously, ill-advised, perhaps politically incited, and financially lubricated opportunism by a possibly cash strapped leading university and a high profile governance studies think tank.

On my reading of the issue, LSE, and its main actors in this scandal, cannot be lightly or easily dismissed or attacked for simply being naive, or worse, high grade ethically ‘flexible’ money or status grubbing opportunists.

This continuing scandal goes to the heart of issues raised anytime anybody considers “constructive engagement” with a regime of questionable legitimacy, especially though not exclusively if the “engagement” is financially greased.

I’ll return to global or regional pariah regimes, such as in Fiji in a later Post, though, I emphatically hasten to add, Fiji is absolutely nowhere near Libya, Burma, North Korea, or Zimbabwe on the International Loathsome or Pariah Scales. Fiji just happens to be the military dictatorship closest to Australia and New Zealand.

Prof David Held London School of Economics

The protagonists on Open Democracy are leading political theorist, professor David Held from LSE’s Global Governance center and professor John Keane,

Prof John Keane Uni of Sydney

an internationally respected scholar of democracy now based at the University of Sydney.

My main reason for keeping an eye on Open Democracy is that one of its main international affairs commentators is the Bradford University Department of Peace Studies professor, Paul Rogers, under whom I studied in 1980 and into 1981 when I did my MA there.

Prof Paul Rogers Bradford University

Prof Rogers’ highly focused, exceptionally informed, and acerbically dry commentaries, including his periodic SWISH Reports for the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC), very usefully add to my general reading and cogitation upon world affairs. I thoroughly recommend his book Losing Control Global Security in the Twenty First Century (3rd Edition, 2010).

If ‘verification by reference to subsequent events’ is a good general test to apply to somebody’s theoretical and analytical commentaries, then Prof Rogers’ work amply passes that test.

No; Prof Rogers by no means is a real consultant to al-Qaida but he deploys his deep knowledge of international affairs, albeit from a British and Northern Hemisphere perspective, his significant experience as a consultant to several governments and NGOs, and a particularly dry, tongue in cheek, cynicism to his SWISH Reports. He’s also one of the scariest academics under whom I studied at Bradford so many years ago, thanks to his awesome, excoriating, rigor and unflinching peace researcher’s realism. I can still ‘hear’ his dry British accent today as I read his Open Democracy Posts.

He’s also briefly commentated on the continuing armed intervention in Libya, again most recently on March 24, 2011.

Back to the Libya – LSE issue, on my steadily more attentive following of it, the dynamics appear to have much in common with so-called ‘constructive engagement’ with most kinds or forms of authoritarian regimes, such as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, which seem to have undergone some sort of international or regional rehabilitation, or at least exhibit tolerable, or convenient, potential or possibilities for rehabilitation into the global or regional community of nations.

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent story traverses this extremely well.

The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, on February 24, 2011 – to whom I usually reliably turn for something to get angry about if my day starts off looking moderately pleasant – didn’t disappoint by castigating the general to extreme left of Australian politics for their periodic engagement with Libya and Gaddafi, deploying his typically broad brush of ordure. I’m also always very suspicious when I see otherwise intelligent and/or well meaning people apparently endorsing or engaging with a regime or cause which, on closer scrutiny, looks actually or potentially ‘smelly’, but have always attributed my suspicions to my innate cynicism and aversion to demonstrative enthusiasms.

Mr Sheridan does deploy the phrase ‘useful idiots’, to which I will also return after attempting to summarize the Libya – LSE controversy ventilated through Open Democracy.

One of the supportive commentators of the LSE and professor David Held is the London Evening Standard’s Jenni Russell who, on March 7, 2011, labeled ‘These attacks on the LSE [as] a witchhunt’ and wrote:

What the LSE is actually being punished for is its failure to predict the future. It took an influential student who appeared to be interested in creating a more liberal future for his country, accepted his foundation’s money, and followed British government advice to help open up Libya to new influences by advising its technocrats and educating some of its people….

The LSE is being blamed for having dealt with a dictatorship at all. The money it received for providing education is described as blood money, tainted by coming from a repressive regime. But if that’s the basis on which funds should be rejected, then it is entirely illogical to single out the LSE; many other universities in England [irrelevant link edited] should be being criticised now.

One of the main ‘Libya engagement’ actors at LSE, significantly through Gaddafi’s son, Saif, was professor David Held, the then co-director of LSE’s Global Governance Center, who sought to defend his position on March 16, 2011, on Open Democracy along the lines of ‘Naivety, Complicity or Cautious Engagement’, though he writes:

There is no risk-free path in engaging with authoritarian regimes, but refraining altogether would also be a mistake. I think it was right to engage and to make a contribution to the dialogue about the democratisation of Libya. But with the terrible knowledge we have now, I would never have countenanced this funding option, nor would the Governing Council of the LSE. It was a mistake that is deeply regrettable.

And he concludes:

History has shown there are different paths to overthrowing regimes, which build up from pressures within as well as from the outside. It is usually the interaction of national and international conditions and processes which create revolutionary situations. This is the context which the Middle East is now in. Autocrats have been swept from power in Tunisia and Egypt and are teetering on the brink in Yemen and Bahrain. In Libya, the fighting has been intensive. Tribe, faction, and fragmentation intersect with the old Gaddafi regime in complex webs of stakeholders, competition and opposition. One can only hope that the Gaddafi regime comes to a swift end, but one fears it may not.

The comments to Prof Held’s Open Democracy post are well worth reading and give notable insight into the heat this matter has generated in the UK.

I was then drawn to emeritus professor Zygmunt Bauman’s comments on Social Europe Journal On Internet, Slander, and Irresponsibility, where he, on my reading, joins with other commentators, to attack critics of Prof Held hiding behind the Net’s cloak of anonymity.

Prof Zygmunt Bauman

I largely mention Prof Bauman because his work on ‘liquid modernity’ provides an exceptionally valuable corrective to the vapid nonsense generally celebrated as ‘postmodernism’ and its many, slippery, foul and noisome gets. A feature of ‘liquid modernity’ includes a flexible, ‘liquid’ position on what ought to be non-negotiable ethical and moral principles found at the core of modernity in its best and strongest moments.

Prof Bauman links to Social Europe’s editor, Henning Meyer, who also attacks critics of Prof Held who, again on my reading of Dr Mayer’s defence of Prof Held, suggest he, and relevant LSE authorities were, at best naive, or too trusting, of Saif Gaddafi’s motives when LSE accepted some funding and otherwise sought to ‘constructively engage’ with the Libyan regime to enhance civil society and the status of women:

As to the accusation itself [that LSE and Prof Held were either hopelessly naive or, much worse, Gaddafi regime stooges], I described above what the research grant was for. The research topics covered by it do not provide any evidence whatsoever for this serious allegation. They rather support the now obscured motive to set up the research project in the first place: trying to develop civil society and inspire positive reform in Libya. The trust in Saif Gaddafi to deliver such reform was certainly misplaced but this does not change the intention of the research programme itself.

Further cogitation on this kind of position might reveal a ‘liquid morality’ in play here too, though I digress.

Turning to Prof Keane’s Open Democracy riposte to Prof Held, Libya, intellectuals and democracy: An open letter to David Held, on March 18, 2011, for starters, it’s very elegantly written and erudite, so my precis of it cannot do it justice. Go read it, savor it even, though I would not place it on the same pedestal as Emile Zola’s J’Accuse intervention into the Dreyfus Affair. But rather than being a precision guided intellectual dismemberment of Prof Held, I detect an almost profound regretful sadness on Prof Keane’s part that Prof Held’s distinguished career and reputation have been terminally damaged by his engagement with Libya. The two have to have known each other for years, and may have even been friends.

Essentially, a major plank of Prof Keane’s argument is that the Gaddafi regime was, particularly after its significant rehabilitation from pariah status in the closing years of the Blair Government, extremely clever and subtle, as well as convincing, about how it went about recruiting scholars and intellectuals to further its legitimacy.

Our colleague Zygmunt Bauman has shown that fellow travelling, the bad habit of cuddling up to power, has long been a curse of our profession. But in your case the Libyan oligarchs went further, by offering your research centre big money for programmes on ‘global governance’, ‘civil society’ and ‘democratisation’. I read in the minutes of an LSE governing council meeting that you argued vigorously against those (was [the late] Fred Halliday [link added] a lone voice?) who were opposed to co-operation with Saif al-Islam. You insisted that a ‘public signing ceremony had been undertaken and a U-turn at this juncture might affect the School’s relations with Libya and cause personal embarrassment to the chairman of the foundation.’ And so the Faustian deal was struck.

Prof Keane puts a series of questions to Prof Held, including:

Can you rest content, safe in the arms of the conviction that your theories are fine but the practise of them, well, was ignored by the promising but wayward son of a fanatic? I don’t think you can. For have you thought that your ‘deeply regrettable’ attraction to the heir apparent of the Libyan regime was more than just a case of the pride and vanity of intellectuals, the generous perks and the acceptance of an oil tanker load of research money in a cash-strapped, near-bankrupt university system? In other words, might the most precious categories within the operative frames of reference of LSE Global Governance have had corrupting effects? …

The scandal reminds us of something that should be obvious, but is often forgotten: in scholarship on democracy, language really matters, sometimes to the point where the intellectual horizons it frames are pimped. The scholarly language we use to speak about democracy is never neutral. It always has consequences. It shapes the way we think. It determines what we can think about. So aren’t there times when it can be abused by others, for instance to fuel their dissimulation and to seduce us, along the way soiling our intentions? To put things crudely: was your consociation with the heir to the throne of the Libyan despotism oiled with the language that you and your colleagues loved to speak?

And Prof Keane concludes:

The purpose of this open letter is to raise fresh concerns about your ‘cautious engagement’ with a violent dictatorship, to convince you that there are still some unanswered questions about the foul nature of the Libyan regime, the political dangers of dissimulation and the corrupting effects on intellectuals of money, hubris and the scholarly language we use. I trust you will not be personally offended by the points I have raised. My hope is that you will see that in this letter, at every point, my aim has not been to vilify, but instead to clarify, to push you to give account of yourself, to explain more fully than you have done so far several matters that are vitally relevant for anybody who shares your concern with the past, present and future of democracy.

But the Comments to Prof Keane’s Post significantly castigate him as ‘pompous, self congratulatory, uninteresting’ and the first commentator writes: “… this is absolutely one of the lowest points: we arrived at the point where a theoretical rival of Held (and one who, perhaps undeservedly has had less academic recognition) claims that his very terminology is so conceptually vacuous as to make him vulnerable to be an instrument of totalitarian regimes”.

(Dr Hayes has another, ‘Huh???‘ moment.)

To my knowledge – and I always beg to be corrected, with supporting evidence – Prof Held has not directly replied to Prof Keane in public, though he was interviewed by the LSE Student’s Union organ, The Beaver, on March 22, 2011:

In a statement published last month, however, on the website of LSE Global Governance, Held retracted his support for Saif.

“My support for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was always conditional on him resolving the dilemma that he faced in a progressive and democratic direction”, Held wrote, adding Saif’s “commitment to transforming his country has been overwhelmed by the crisis he finds himself in”.

“He tragically, but fatefully, made the wrong judgement”, Held wrote. “As a result, the LSE has stopped new work on the North Africa Programme”.

Even so, Held has continued to come under sharp public criticism for his mentoring and informal advising of Gaddafi during the years at LSE.

Held responded by stressing that his decision was “neither naive nor complicit”. Calling the termed the consociation “a risk worth taking”, given the potential benefits of what is now clearly a failing link.

Held told the Beaver the association was a “cautious form of engagement”, portrayed in an “utterly preposterous way”.

Held said he wants people to understand “the LSE doesn’t deal in arms, oil, construction, contracts in making money out of Libya”.

“We are engaged in the business of ideas”, Held told the Beaver.

“The aim was a democratic reform of the country”, he said, adding, “if only it was successful”.

Held has been quoted as saying the funding was used to “pursue research on changing governance patterns in North Africa, economic diversification, oil and sustainability, developing civil society, and the status of women”.

Commenting on implications of the media coverage on his personal academic reputation, Held said recent media criticisms have damaged his academic reputation.

“It has been very, very damaging”, Held said. “A bit like going through a car crash that allows two circumstances–to learn and move on, or give up and end it all”.

Are Prof Held and his supporters, as Jenni Russell observes, essentially being punished for their failure to predict the future?

LSE, and Prof Held and co, are internationally respected heavyweights, and, acting on very good advice no doubt – I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if discrete advice wasn’t sought or offered from MI6, HM’s Foreign Office, and major corporate intelligence and risk assessment outfits too -, went ahead with their financially assisted ‘constructive engagement’ with what was apparently a rehabilitating formerly pariah regime including through a son of the Libyan dictator doing his PhD at LSE.

Earlier in 2011, it all went horribly wrong.

Are their defenses or explanations of their actions really convincing, or are they just erudite weasel words deployed post facto, a form of intellectual public relations, damage control, and reputation protection?

To draw on Greg Sheridan’s deployment of the term ‘useful idiots‘, it describes people, often but not exclusively intellectuals, journalists, or celebrities, who are suborned or engaged, complicitly or naively, by authoritarian regimes to promote a more ‘informed’ or ‘balanced’ perspective of what’s ‘really going on’ in the country in question. At the very least, ‘useful idiots’ can be ‘enrolled’ to spread doubt about the generally otherwise negative international perception conveyed by the media or human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International.

In August, 2010, the BBC World Service ran a two part series on useful idiots which is well worth a listen.

The term is often, incorrectly, attributed to Lenin, though a feature of Soviet foreign and cultural policy did include the cultivation of Western intellectuals, journalists, or celebrities given sponsored tours of the Soviet Union but who never saw the Gulags and only met ‘approved’ locals, often at carefully staged events.

If one has ‘flexible’ or ‘liquid’ principles, or varying degrees of almost desperation to see the slivers of good or redemptive potential in an otherwise dire or appalling context, one is more likely, or at least amenable, to be cultivated or suborned to, in effect, become an apologist for an otherwise awful regime.

Make no mistake, loathsome regimes are not usually run by fools, whatever else they may be or appear to be.

Key supporters or agents have probably traveled widely, been educated overseas, perhaps on scholarships – colonial and post-colonial cultivation of promising local elites continues – have routine access to global media even if some in their countries still have limited access to electricity or mobile phones, so they usually really know their global, globalized governance, stuff.

They’re very clever, crafty, and ‘flexible’ when it comes to maintaining their domination locally, and seeking and obtaining support or positive recognition internationally. They’re always on the hunt for ‘useful idiots’.

I started this Post initially thinking the Libya – LSE scandal would prove to be pretty straightforward.

As I indicated near the beginning, on my reading of the issue, LSE, and its main actors in this scandal, cannot be lightly or easily dismissed or attacked for simply being naive, or worse, high grade ethically ‘flexible’ money or status grubbing academic opportunists.

This continuing scandal goes to the heart of issues raised anytime anybody considers “constructive engagement” with a regime of questionable legitimacy, especially though not exclusively if the “engagement” is financially greased, or oiled with status or access.

I nevertheless have to side much more with Professor Keane than with Professor Held and his supporters, and await with great anticipation any more fulsome response David Held might make to John Keane as the points raised really do deserve very close and highly informed and reflective attention.

A later Post will consider all this in the context of ‘constructive engagement’ with Fiji.

In conclusion, the Libya – LSE scandal more than amply confirms the import, indeed wisdom, of the very old caution -

“Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend.”

“If you’re going to sup with the Devil, you’d better bring a long spoon.”


Media Effects, Censorship and Fiji ~ Updated

February 27, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

I’ve added an Update on March 24, 2011, below, which seems to reinforce several points in my original argument.

Plus another short addition on March 25, 2011 too.

Reports about a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry early in 2011 entitled ‘Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji’ have gotten me thinking, again, about the Fiji military dictatorship’s rigorous media controls which themselves were evidenced, again, when a story about the declining condition of the largest pot of money in Fiji, the National Provident Fund, was banned from local publication.

(Thanks to Pacific Scoop, A/Prof David Robie, and the Pacific Media Centre for these spurs to further thought about practical media censorship.)

As I was preparing this post, yet another Fiji journalist was hauled in by the regime for a talking to, apparently about a story they’d published on maintainence problems in the Fiji sugar industry.

Communications Fiji Ltd, operator of the Pacific’s largest radio network and of Fijivillage.com, has helpfully dobbed its main cyberspace competitor, Fijilive.com, into the regime’s Media Industry Development Authority because Fijilive’s owner, Yashwant Gounder, hasn’t lived in Fiji for over a year. This is a flagrant violation of the regime’s Media Decree, which requires media owners to have lived in Fiji for at least six months of the last year. Go Get ‘Em!

(Confirms my point about the Fiji media’s extreme solidarity, usually not, whereby an attack on one outlet is usually responded to as a business opportunity by the others.)

Add to the foregoing other recent reports that the dictatorship’s Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), imposed by the regime’s June, 2010, Media Decree (1.7 Meg PDF), and chaired by Professor Subramani, at one time based at USP, has commenced consulting with stakeholders about how to go about its business.

And a couple of statements on the regime’s web site about ‘Different roles of the media’ from the Director of the Information Ministry, Ms Setaita Natai, and a report headed ‘Accurate message brings peace and respect’ about a Fijian-language workshop mounted by Fiji Media Watch.

As an aside, worthy and well meant though the efforts of the tiny NGO, Fiji Media Watch, have been for many years, they’re on a hiding to nothing in a wholly commercialised media environment like Fiji. If it’s one thing that makes the Fiji media only slightly less suspicious than a competitor getting an advantage, it’s anybody trying to dilute or critique the believed impact of the media’s main content – advertising. As a quite reliable rule of thumb, commercial media hate advocates of media literacy. If media literacy was applied to the Fiji regime’s media efforts, an NGO like Fiji Media Watch could well get the same treatment as other perceived regime opponents or critics.

UpDate – March 24, 2001 -

Two stories in the censored Fiji Times for Wednesday, March 23, reported on a Fiji Media Watch seminar the previous day.

As an aside, all Fiji media are subject to often intrusive censorship, with censors usually stationed in Newsrooms actively vetting copy, and, as the Fiji Times and Fiji TV found out over Easter, 2009, it is forbidden under Section 16 of the still operative Public Emergency Regulations (PER) – Fiji’s so-called ‘Rule of Law’ – to inform readers, listeners, or viewers that their news has been subjected to regime censorship.The PER were supposed to be removed when the regime introduced its Media Decree in the middle of 2010 but they’re still in force.

As a matter of style and for accuracy, I always insert the word ‘censored’ before the name of a Fiji media outlet because its news output has been subjected to routine and probably intrusive regime censorship.

The first censored Fiji Times story was headed Media Affects Children’s Behaviour and reported, in part:

Ministry of Education principal education officer Tomasi Raiyawa said the media worked on theories of exploitation in order to remain sustainable.

Speaking at a workshop organised by the Fiji Media Watch, which focused on the impact of the media on the world, Mr Raiyawa said the media worked like bullets where they penetrated recipients whom he described as sitting ducks.

The audience, he said, was passive to the point where the media was allowed to “vesumona you”.

Vesumona is a composite of two Fijian words, ‘vesau‘, which refers to ‘talking in a foreign language, jabber, chatter, or talk unintelligently’ and ‘mona‘ means ‘ the brain’. In other words, the media ‘messes with your head’.

The story continued: “Mr Raiyawa said a contentious issue was the impact of the media on society, particularly on the argument of the effect of violent action movies on children”.

There is considerable evidence from a range of disciplines – psychology, education, media effects studies – pointing to a desensitization to extreme violence by adolescents and children exposed to severe, repetitious, and violent computer games, but the exposure has to be very significant, almost routine, and reinforced by other factors, including peer legitimation and the user’s social environment. Children particularly, but also many adolescents, can lack the socialization and psychological development needed to clearly differentiate between realistic, if obviously fictional, dramatic, violence and real life violence.

Equally important, and the heroic folks at the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Fiji Women’s Movement who work tirelessly against Fiji’s domestic violence epidemic amply know this, extended exposure to media violence, including but not exclusively to violent movies, crime shows, and similar – Walker Texas Ranger was once a staple on Fiji TV for years – can give apparent legitimation to quick, violent, solutions to personal or individual frustrations or grievances.

Both very broad outlines of applicable research findings, immediately above, are heavily caveated, as are the very large number of studies done on the pressing issues of the complex impacts of repeated, extreme. violence exposure on, separately, adolescents, children, and adults, and the related effects of fictional, though realistic, violence exposure to apparently offering a quick solution to real life issues.

Mr Raiyawa’s reported remarks, though, seriously misrepresent the available, reliable research findings on the pressing issues on which he is reported speaking. He’s essentially arguing that children exposed to media violence are turned into violent sociopaths: “Mr Raiyawa said the media worked like bullets where they penetrated recipients whom he described as sitting ducks”; completely discredited hypodermic needle theory of media effects.

The second story in the censored Fiji Times for Wednesday, March 23, was blandly headed ‘Ministry highlights idea‘ and appears to report on other points Mr Raiyawa made at the Fiji Media Watch seminar on Tuesday, March 22, 2011:

There were “… four types of philosophies in the media world”.

“Oh, no, here we go again,” Dr Hayes groaned. ‘“Four Theories of the Press regurgitated. Hasn’t this guy, and his Education Ministry, figured out that the Soviet Union ceased to exist around 1991, and let’s see if he discourses on the Authoritarian Theory deployed in its Fijian context?”

“The first, world philosophy, was where the paparazzi reigned in a realm of sensationalism, sex, beauty, drugs and politics, he said at a community-based workshop organised by the Fiji Media Watch ù an organisation that raises awareness on the impact of the mass media.

“When my namesake Tom Cruise came to Fiji for a holiday, the media trailed him,” Mr Raiyawa said in a lighthearted moment at the Fijian Teachers Association building at Knollys Street in Suva.

“Fiji fell into the third world philosophy where media coverage focused on development and the improvement of lifestyles.

“I’m certain, our media in Fiji is mixed up,” he said of the category the country’s media fell in.”

OK. Now Dr Hayes gets it.

Mr Raiyawa is advocating a form of development journalism, such as sketched out by development scholar, Susan George, in The Guardian in 2009.

I have absolutely no problem with this, just as I have no problems with peace journalism, a parallel sub-field of journalism which was discussed at USP Journalism late in 2010, and later discussed by former USP Journalism head, Shailendra Singh, at a conference I attended in Auckland in late 2010.

My very grave concern about advocating or even deploying peace and/or development journalism in a place like Fiji, though, lies in the risk of selective capture of these very worthy ideas and advocated practices by a military dictatorship so that some of the popular empowerment and media literacy components in these fields get diluted or even warped to serve, in practice, the interests of the regime which, to be sure, deeply infected with Group Think as it is, has thoroughly conflated Fiji’s developmental interests with its own survival.

The second censored Fiji Times report ended:

The local media was yet to take up its role in development, [Mr Raiyawa] said.

And Fiji, he said, was coming into the fourth world philosophy where there was State control.

Yep. Vinaka vakalevu for clarifying where you’re really coming from, Mr Raiyawa, principal education officer of the Fiji Education Ministry’s executive support unit.

If he really wants to update his knowledge of media theories from a normative perspective, he really should read, carefully, Normative Theories of the Media Journalism in Democratic Societies by Clifford Christians et.al. (2010). But Fiji is by no means a democratic society. It’s a military dictatorship.

Update of March 24, 2011 ends

Short UpDate on March 25 -

Pacific Media Watch has this additional item - ‘Education official hits out at ‘junk food’ media

It is all very well to castigate the media for running very cleverly crafted junk food ads – these things are extremely carefully piloted, tweaked, and tested by highly educated and skilled psychologists, marketers, and production crews; nothing is left to chance – or the implied criticism of what, on my recollection of Fiji’s media, was (and probably still is) its incessant, raucous, and repetitious pushing of credit as a means to get all the stuff you don’t need now, otherwise your neighbors, extended family, whoever, will look down on you.

The media had also given rise to neighbourly competition and subsequently theft, [Mr Tomasi Raiyawa, principal education officer of the Fiji Education Ministry's executive support unit] told participants at the Fiji Media Watch’s community based workshop in Suva earlier this week.

Families could barely make ends meet and were led to steal to meet the needs and wants of their respective families, he said.

Through the media, culture and taste has changed, Raiyawa said.

OK, Mr Raiyawa and the military dictatorship for whom you ultimately work and obey, if you want to get really serious about the issues you quite properly raised at the Fiji Media Watch gathering, start deploying your censors into the sales and marketing divisions of the Fiji media and implement a ‘clean up campaign’, like the regime says it’s doing on corruption, to ‘clean up’ the Fiji media’s real content, its advertising to deal with the genuinely serious matters you’ve identified in your recently reported comments and criticisms.

- Original Post Continues -

I was, and remain, very puzzled about the genuine justifications for the rigorous and intrusive media censorship imposed by the Fiji regime during Easter, 2009, through its Public Emergency Regulations (PER), particularly Section 16 – never made entirely clear who caused the ‘emergency’ -, then the serious reasoning behind and research informing the Media Decree, and then its enabling agency, MIDA. The only material available comes from a study of the Fiji media by Dr James Anthony commissioned by the Fiji Human Rights Commission and released in February, 2008.

(I readily admit to a certain wry amusement when admitting the foregoing puzzlement, as I’m actually quite sure there’s no serious, verifiable, or highly informed media theory or media effects research informing the Fiji regime’s media restrictions or the work of the MIDA. I’m engaging in heuristics, a ‘thought experiment’, probing the issue as if there were some heavy duty media scholarship informing the regime’s media ‘policies’ when, in reality, I’d certainly get more sense from peering into a tanoa of yagona than doing a scholarly deconstruction of the Fiji dictatorship’s media ‘policies’. But let’s play along for the purposes of this exercise…  I’m also deliberately setting to one side informed debates about, and criticisms of, the genuine capacity, or otherwise, of Fiji’s journalists.)

Firstly, a journalistic practice point.

Whenever I see media reports about serious scholarly studies which deserve a closer look, I always go to the source and download the original study. Of course, to do this, one needs access to, and knowledge about how to navigate through, academic or professional databases, usually only available through University libraries.

Then there’s a second point. Serious scholarly studies, such as reported in professional journals like The British Journal of Psychiatry, have been rigorously peer reviewed, and thence can be, and deserve to be, taken very seriously indeed. Very occasionally, poor quality science slips through, or a dodgy study gets published, but science’s self-correcting mechanisms almost always deal with such very rare incidents.

Thirdly, I certainly tunnel into the methodology deployed in studies such as this one reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry lest it be exposed as having all the methodological validity of a very bad public opinion poll or a University class teaching evaluation (i.e., virtually none). It wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near even a preliminary review panel were it in any way flakey.

This study looks very strong indeed.

I won’t rehash the material on Pacific Scoop or on the Pacific Media Centre from this valuable study, and suggest readers go find the original study for yourselves one way or another.

So, what does a very good study into media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji have to do with media censorship in the same country?

Lots; because both broad issues have to do with media effects upon audiences.

The recent Fiji study into adolescent eating pathology confirms some of the very best general research into media effects on audiences:

“Our study findings are consistent with previous reports that mass media consumption has an adverse impact on eating pathology. These findings are novel, however, in supporting the possibility that indirect media exposure – operationalised in this study as peer network exposure – may also promote risk for eating pathology. They also compliment previous research that has established peer and family-mediated influences as risk factors for eating disorders… Efforts to address the recent degradation of nutritional health in Pacific Island countries might expand to scrutinise the effects not just of culturally Western food products, but also of transnational mass media imports that may promote unhealthful behaviours. Importantly, if second-hand exposure to media content is, indeed, harmful to children, as this study supports, then the recommendation to parents to limit screen time may be inadequate to protect children from the risk imposed by their social milieu” (Becker, et.al., Brit.J.Psych, 2011 198 43 – 50 at 48 & 49).

In other words, particularly on younger members of audiences, but not exclusively so, at least in part because their self- and body identity formation is still variably plastic, the influence of the media, especially television, on their eating habits is amplified or at least solidified by peer interaction over against any direct effects of exposure to media messages which impact on eating behaviours. This can be very carefully extrapolated into probable media effects on adult audiences and their behaviours on consumer choices, voting preferences, and so on.

This confirms the core of what’s called the Lazardsfeld Two Step Flow view of media effects on audiences. (Ok; that’s a Wikipedia entry on this small but very influential part of the vast and complicated Literatures on media effects but it’s a good starting point. Internet Quality Evaluation Filters Always Engaged UQ Library advice 74 kb PDF.)

In general, the media doesn’t tell its audiences how to think about some issue. The media more likely tells us what issues we might think about, but how we actually think about some issue is largely formed elsewhere.

As far as I am aware, and I’m always open to being corrected and pointed to supporting evidence, despite the rigorous media censorship imposed in Fiji since Easter, 2009, not one advertisement for so-called junk food has been censored.

Seems the censors in Fiji are only focusing on journalistic messages in the local media, and ignoring the other, much more significant content, at least in terms of time and probable, repetitious, impacts. Of course, journalistic messages, the media content increasingly squeezed between the advertising – that’s the mass media’s really serious content – entertainment, sport, and community service announcements, is imbued with greater credibility, or allegedly so.

Media content which, apparently, has been processed or generated by journalists in information processing factories called Newsrooms, causes Fiji’s censors and the military dictatorship far more concern than almost endless, repetitious, very cleverly crafted, localised and imported (thence cheaper) advertising, some of which is, on the basis of the recent British Journal of Psychiatry study, significantly influencing adolescent eating behaviours, not so much directly but through a two-step flow of peer reinforcement.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Fiji regime’s all but explicit intent is nothing less than the re-working or re-programming of the Fijian psyche to eliminate corrosive, incendiary, ethno-nationalism.

To achieve this, they’ve imposed rigorous journalistic censorship, which has given extra energy to the most ‘reliable’ Fijian ‘public service’, the Coconut Wireless. At least Fiji’s incessant rumour mill never fails, unlike the notoriously unreliable water and electricity supplies. The content, of course, varies from extremely accurate to genuinely incendiary and fantastic.

That’s where journalists step in as information gatherers, refiners, refractors, and professional communicators, sieving the rumours, discarding the rubbish, seeking out the facts, balancing the opinions, and assisting their audiences to to make sense of it all. Good journalism is a very important corrective to the Coconut Wireless.

The media effects theory informing the censors and their masters in the Ministry of Information, including dictatorship appointed Permanent Secretary, Australian expatriate, former Fairfax sales executive, Ms Sharon Smith-Johns, appears to be the ‘hypodermic theory’ – I publish a media message and you are affected by it (rush to buy my product, change your voting preference, riot in the streets, and similar). As a former, senior, sales executive for a leading Australian media corporation, you’d think she actually knows her stuff when it comes to applied media effects theory and research. To be sure, under her control, the regime’s PR does seem to have improved from the earlier days when Lt. Colonel Neumi Leweni headed the Information Ministry.

Of course, the ‘quality’ or ‘impact’ of the message is relevant, so couple a very cleverly crafted message, which might even include a ‘dog whistle‘, with a sound knowledge of what makes the target audience tick, and the hypodermic effect should occur.

What the regime is actually doing is selectively withdrawing certain, quite limited, kinds of media content. Given that they haven’t published the detailed guidelines for the censors deployed in Fiji’s newsrooms – what gets through, what gets chopped – informed observers, like me, are left to reverse-engineer particular incidents to figure out why a journalist was hauled in to explain themselves.

If the sugar industry is failing, which it is, or the National Provident Fund needs some serious investigation, which it does, then why are stories about these issues censored or even suppressed, or, as in the most recent case, a story which passed a censor nevertheless had the journalist hauled in to explain themselves.

My sources have long complained that far from having anything but the vaguest ‘guidelines’ – ‘no politics’ – the censorship is often arbitrary, capricious, or even revengeful, with the censor on the day even cutting or removing a story apparently just to get back at or irritate a particular journalist or editor. Always with the real threat of being able to whistle up militarised police or, much worse, serious, armed, military muscle to enforce Fiji’s new ‘legal order’, the Rule of Fists and/or Glock.

Keep this up, so goes a crude deployment of negative reinforcement psychology – I’ll stop censoring you when you reliably report ‘correctly’ – and Fiji’s psyche might, eventually, be re-wired. So goes the apparent hypodermic effect theory.

Problem is, as an informed reading of the implications of the recent study on ‘Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji’ for wider media effects confirms, the hypodermic effect of media doesn’t work, either through injection or withdrawal, so imposing rigorous censorship almost certainly doesn’t, and won’t, achieve the sought-after result.

Even allowing for highly varying levels of education, literacy in English and vernacular, media literacy, media access, and a population of some 800,000 people skewed to a younger demographic, the attempted re-wiring or re-programming the psyche of a place like Fiji through attempted censorship of just some media content is very seriously contradicted by the best available global media effects theory and research, including high quality studies focusing right down on to Fiji and its adolescent audiences themselves.

You’d really think that when a regime has its hands on all the resources of state, they’d do much better with their media controls and propaganda than the Fiji regime is currently doing.


Nonviolence, Media Freedom, Egypt and Fiji

February 20, 2011
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”
T.E. Lawrence

Post by Dr Mark Hayes (Brisbane)

Browsing the dead tree edition of the Sydney Morning Herald for February 19, 2011, at Page 13, my weary eye chanced upon an article tagged ‘Inspiration’, headlined ‘Unassuming author helps write history‘ by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and sourced to the New York Times. Me being me, and always ‘going to the source’, I energized the mighty MacBook Pro and tracked down the original article. The New York Times helpfully assembles resources and other background materials so start there.

Some focused Googling (excuse the irritating neologism  :(  ) added quite a few other materials to my trawl on Gene Sharp, including this long interview on a US public radio station (13.3 Meg MP3; excuse the irritating donation pleas) and a fairly recent edited interview on YouTube.

This last item was occasioned after Gene was ‘outed’ as an American agent funded by the CIA to destabilize Iran, Venezuela, and generally being a Bush administration stooge. Several sources promptly, and vigorously, debunked this nonsense.

The genial Gene Sharp

However, the ‘Gene Sharp is a CIA agent’ fantasy surfaced again in Fiji in June, 2008, when then Fiji Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Shaista Shameem, released a report (2.41 Meg PDF) into the deportations of Fiji Sun publisher, Russell Hunter, and later, Fiji Times publisher, Evan Hannah, which, among many other very interesting things, uncovered a perfidious plot to destabilize the then ‘interim’ government by a cabal of media, lawyers, and foreign funded NGOs distributing and inspired by Gene Sharp’s The Anti-Coup booklet. Shock! Horror!

Dr Shaista Shameem clearly pulled down Gene Sharp’s entry on Wikipedia, selectively Googled some other stuff to bolster her paranoia and conspiracy theory, and evaluated that rubbish in a way that would get her failed in any half-decent high school or university subject.

Around the time of the 2006 Fiji coup, in Boston, USA, Ms Jamila Raqib, a staffer with the tiny non-violence think-tank, The Albert Einstein Institution, founded by Gene Sharp, was e-mailing copies of the institution’s 72-page The Anti-Coup Handbook to every email address she could find in Fiji.

“Individuals whom we were able to actually reach (I am excluding a number of emails that were returned to me as ‘undeliverable’) included a diverse group of more than 200 human rights organisations, government bodies, civil society groups, business councils, religious associations, as well as radio, television, newspaper, and web media networks to bring their attention to our publication,” Ms Raqib told me in an email at the time. Radio Australia also reported on this activity.

What annoyed me was that, drawing on an illegal, stolen, and selective e-mail trawl probably obtained by the Fiji military, or helpfully provided by a coup-supporting stooge inside Fiji’s largest ISP, Connect,com.fj, Dr Shameem didn’t out me as another source of subversive and inciteful materials because I, too, had e-mailed several Fiji contacts with copies of The Anti-Coup.

Gene Sharp, apparently, also terrifies the local military dictatorship in the South Pacific, not without reason, it seems.

Read the rest of this entry »


Australian J School bans staff contact with Fiji

April 23, 2009

My colleagues in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland have taken a strong stand against the suppression of media freedom in Fiji. The school has decided to put a black ban on staff travel to Fiji for the foreseeable future in solidarity with journalists and news workers who are literally under the gun on the Pacific island.

The veteran Australian reporter, Sean Dorney, regarded as one of the world’s experts on Pacific issues has also received a very warm welcome on a recent speaking tour of Australian universities. I’ve included a report of his talk to three hundred first year journalism students at the University of Queensland a couple of days ago.

A hat tip to Dr Mark Hayes for this information.

Read the rest of this entry »


Fiji situation – support for journalists under the gun

April 16, 2009

this statement released this week by the Journalism Education Association in Australia

Soldiers and police have no place in any newsroom.

We oppose the Fiji dictatorship’s attempts to control our colleagues by threats, intimidation and censorship. We call on our governments to seek to protect all Fiji journalists striving to perform their duties in these difficult circumstances.

As journalists and educators we affirm Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

We strongly support our esteemed Australian colleague, Sean Dorney and other foreign journalists who have been expelled from Fiji because they sought the truth in the public interest.

For more Information contact : Professor Alan Knight 0448194512 email: ad.knight@qut.edu.au

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has also issued a strong statement and has several updates on the situation in Fiji.

Reporters without  borders (RSF) has also got extensive coverage.

David Robie’s Cafe Pacific blog is a good source on this story.

Pacific Media Centre at AUT University

Fiji Free Speech is covering Coup V.5


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