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 »


Gopalan Nair free on bail – still facing charges

June 6, 2008

I just saw an AFP news feed, 8 hours ago [around 7 on Thursday evening Sydney time], saying the Singapore blogger Gopalan Nair has been released. As of now I can’t find any coverage in the NZ Herald or the Dominion Post.

Nair posted $5000 bail and walked out of prison after four days, but without his US passport. Nair arrived in Singapore on 25 May and challenged authorities to come and get him from his hotel.

He had posted his room and phone numbers on Singapore Dissident [link inside]. Gopalan’s charged with insulting a judge in a defamation case involving two of his political allies. His blog, regularly criticises the government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is protesting Nair’s arrest. He was in Singapore to cover the defamation trial involving Democratic Party activists Dr. Chee Soon Juan and Chee Siok Chin.

That trial is also a story worth following as Nair is trapped in Singapore and now facing serious defamation charges himself.

Read the rest of this entry »


Regime Quake – good news, or excuse for incursion?

May 17, 2008

I have just read Naomi Klein’s column in The Nation, it’s online here. She makes an argument that the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China could lead to greater political unrest in those nations. I guess that’s always a possibility in the aftermath of such shocks, but how can people really fight back when they’re starving and their backs are literally to the wall? Read the rest of this entry »


How to Stop the Fiji Regime in its Tracks when it comes for Journalists

February 28, 2008

How to Stop the Fiji Regime in its Tracks when it comes for Journalists
By Dr Mark Hayes, a Brisbane-based media and journalism educator who knows the media situation in Fiji very well indeed.
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In Fijian, there’s a term used to describe ‘sweeping under the mat’, ‘or ‘secretive decisions’, a ‘deliberate denial of transparency and accountability’ – Vere Ubiubi (pron: Very Umbi Umbi). This is an example of how it works in practice.
The disgraceful, and quite possibly illegal and certainly in contempt of court, deportation of Fiji Sun editor Russell Hunter on Tuesday morning, February 26, 2008, is, among many other things a serious failure in crisis responding by the Fiji media.
A senior, and well known, media executive, and his family, are intimidated, and he’s kidnapped in the dead of night by a cowardly snatch squad sent by person or persons unknown. Meanwhile, a superior court issues a ‘stop order’ to prevent an apparent deportation attempt, and this is ignored by all relevant authorities and agencies. The executive is deprived of all communication, so he can’t even tell his family where he is, let alone contact his lawyer or staff, driven almost 200 kilometres at night (if you’ve driven from Suva to Nadi, even in daylight, you know that’s a very scary journey), humiliated as he’s hurried through Customs and Immigration, publically segregated from other passengers in the Departure Lounge, and bundled on to an Air Pacific jet.
The belated feeble excuses offered by senior authorities make no rational sense, and no even remotely convincing evidence to justify this action has been produced.
The Fiji media make all the expected, ritual, noises while Mr Hunter’s long gone from Nadi Airport.
At every step, we can see a cascading failure in crisis responding on the part of almost all with genuine interests in this outrage, especially in Fiji.
This is made even worse because, following on from the 2000 – 2001 crisis, and then the heroic stand some media took on the evening of the 2006 coup, the Fiji media should know how to very effectively respond to a grave governance crisis in general, such as a coup, and a specific incident such as Mr Hunter’s treatment (or other well documented harassment of several of their number over the last year or so).
On the night of the 2006 coup, the Fiji military, following the ‘book of coups’ (yes; there is one) tried to prevent the Fiji media from reporting statements from the ousted SDL government by deploying soldiers into several newsrooms. The Fiji Times and Fiji TV refused to publish looming bulletins and editions under military intimidation, and other media similarly resisted military pressure. The responses of the Fiji media that night, and into subsequent days were genuinely heroic, and amply demonstrated what principled solidarity can achieve. Over subsequent months, however, the Fiji media has revered to its usual acutely competitive habits, even when one of their own was summoned to the military camp in northern Suva and verbally threatened later in 2007. Around the same time, the leading US nonviolence think tank, the Albert Einstein Institution was seeding copies of its Anti-Coup Handbook very widely around Fiji-based NGOs.
Here’s not the place to go into a detailed exposition of nonviolent direct action, but what I am strongly arguing is that if the Fiji media consistently deployed principled, highly informed, and creative nonviolent resistance techniques and tactics, at the very least they could educate the Interim Government that it is really not a good idea to mess with them, and, when another incident of harassment occurs, deal with the ‘authorities’ like a swarm of wasps. These techniques are entirely congruent with the Fiji Media Council Code of Ethics.
Putting it another way – and Fiji must be one of the few places on the planet not to have had Star Trek on its television screens – the Fiji media needs to install individual, newsroom, and industry Corbomite Shields, so that any attempts at attack against any one of them rebounds against the attacker, with equal force. A related idea is backfire, which can be planned for, and engineered to occur when harassment occurs. Even obdurate slow learners, like the Fiji military appear to be, will sooner rather than later get the message.
Much nonviolence is informed by the proposition that dominators only wield power and thence obtain, if not eager obedience, then at least acquiescence, to the extent that their targets let them. In many important respects, the very wide array of nonviolent techniques available, even in far worse, even lethal, contexts than contemporary Fiji, are aimed at eroding and even removing a dominator’s power.
So, revisiting the Hunter deportation, at many stages, nonviolence could have been deployed to monkey wrench the intended activities of his cowardly snatch squad, and, more importantly, their even more craven and cowardly masters. Some of these techniques need to be deployed and rehearsed well in advance of possible intimidation, and some can be deployed as needed. Nonviolent resistance should by no means be a spontaneous response to pressing intimidation, as is connoted by the obsolete term ‘passive resistance’, but requires planning, preparation, and creative, principled, and courageous deployment. Finally, though, there are no guarantees of success (just as there are no certainties in warfare either).
With Mr Hunter in Sydney, the Fiji Media Council could show it remembers what a spine is for by coordinating a joint industry operation to get him back, as well as seriously investigating the whole foul and disgraceful exercise. It may be they have an ally in this exercise in the person of the Interim Attorney General.
The Council’s President, Mr Daryl Tarte, with a suitably equipped Fiji TV crew using small digital video cameras, could go to Sydney, and return with Mr Hunter, and record the whole process from the inside.
There’s another good story to report if Air Pacific declines to carry Mr Hunter because, they may well claim, he’s been declared an illegal. By whom? Under what powers or legislation, and using what evidence? Qantas, which code shares with Air Pacific, might need interrogation too if Mr Hunter seeks to travel on a Qantas ticket rather than an Air Pacific ticket, and is similarly declined passage.
A radio journalist or two, with digital audio recorders, could also be dispatched on this part of the operation. Mobile phones can be used to broadcast and photograph, even video, proceedings live as they occur.
At Nadi Airport, the plane can be met by a group of reporters equipped to report the story from the outside, including interrogating officials in the terminal, as they have choices to obey or not.
As it appears to be the case that there was a court order out preventing Mr Hunter’s deportation, some media need to track down and explain why that order was ignored, by whom, and why Air Pacific, as the carrier, also ignored the court order. Other media need to seriously interrogate the real reasons why Mr Hunter was deported, and why it was absolutely necessary to send a cowardly snatch squad to his home at night, rather than visit him at work, by appointment, as civilised authorities usually do to serve, for example, legal documents or even press releases. Are all legal documents served on all media in Fiji by similar means, and if so, why, and if not, why not, and by whom? Perhaps all Fiji media should refuse to accept all legal documents unless they are delivered to appropriate executive’s homes late at night by a cowardly, secretive, anonymous snatch squad. After all, there is now a clear and very high level precedent for this kind of activity, so what’s the problem?
Indeed, the media should seek to identify the members of Mr Hunter’s snatch squad, and expose them, because they had a choice in the matter. International law, and military regulations, fully allow for the principled disobedience of an illegal order by individual soldiers. Even military genocides occur because soldiers actually doing the killing, and civilian officials often assisting, particularly these days, ignore their consciences, and even basic training in the laws of war, and obey their illegal orders. And similarly up the snatch squad’s chain of military and civilian command, outing each and every person responsible. That’s called accountability.
A fairly well known trick to pull when one fears physical intimidation, in a bar for example, and rapid withdrawal seems difficult, is to hit the floor writhing and screaming as if one had actually been assaulted. Mr Hunter could have executed this kind of tactic in the Departure Lounge of Nadi Airport (which I know well) to draw significant public attention to his situation. It appears that another passenger on his flight was a senior US consular official who kindly lent him extra cash prior to arriving in Sydney. Excellent witnesses such as this official can be later called on in court, as well as quoted in subsequent stories.
The pressure the combined Fiji media should put on the Interim Government should be incessant, unremitting, and indefatigable, like wasps, coming at them from many simultaneous directions, seeking answers to entirely legitimate questions, chasing down angles and leads, and drawing the public into the continuing story, by engaging them actively in the restoration of democracy, monitoring power, and exposing abuses of power. That’s what the media does.
The foregoing is, by the way, entirely congruent with the principles of good governance, and media freedom, which, so the Interim Prime Minister recently declared, was ‘secure and guaranteed in Fiji’. By reference to generally accepted and internationally supported standards and principles, we assume.


NZ journalist held at Fiji airport. 15/06/2007. ABC News Online

June 15, 2007

NZ journalist held at Fiji airport. 15/06/2007. ABC News Online

Auckland-based Fairfax journalist and Pacific expert, Michael Field was detained at Nadi airport and expects to be expelled. He was sent to Fiji to cover the diplomatic row over the expulsion of NZ High Commissioner, Michael Green.
It seems that the coup leaders are now stepping up their attacks on media freedom by banning international reporters too.


the dialectic of press freedom

May 29, 2007

Challenges for the press and freedom – Fiji Times Online

This is an edited transcript of the speech given by Australian Press Council member, Chris McLeod to a Fiji Media Council-sponsored seminar at the University of the South Pacific last night on World Media Freedom Day. The theme of the day was Media Freedom in a State of Emergency.

The point I want to make here is that legislative attempts to enshrine media freedoms in law are a double-edged sword. The dialectic of the front page is clearly shown in the examples mentioned here.
For example, the real purpose of a law to guarantee freedom of speech and media accountability in Zimbabwe is to guarantee that the government of Robert Mugabe can stifle criticism by both local and international journalists.

In Fiji, under military law and a declared ‘state of emergency’ is also a case in point. The repeated attacks on journalists, including detention, intimidation and physical beatings are excused by the military as necessary to maintain good order. The real purpose is, of course, to stifle dissent and criticism.

Unfortunately the Australian government turns a blind eye to such maneouvering when it’s regional interests are seen to be supported by draconian regimes.

Intimidation of journalists via judicial and legislative means is the dark side of arguments in favour of government ‘guarantees’ of media freedom. It is not freedom, but rather a set of fur-lined shackles.


Whitlam memory lapse alert – sincerely

May 4, 2007

Whitlam called to Balibo Five inquest. 03/05/2007. ABC News Online

This is a story that just won’t go away. Thirty years ago, on October 16 1975, two Australians, two Britons and a
a New Zealander were murdered by Indonesian soldiers during that country’s invasion of East Timor. The five, reporter Greg Shackleton, 27, sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21, cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, cameraman Brian Peters, 29, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28 were in the town of Balibo when the Indonesians attacked. They were shot in cold blood.
There’s always been a suggestion that the then Labor government, led by PM Gough Whitlam, was complicit in the Indonesians’ bloody take-over.
I wonder if Gough can remember what happened back in 1975. He’ll certainly never forget November the 11th,the day he was sacked by the Governor General, but will he be able to recall any meetings with Indonesian and American officials at which the decision to chop off any chance of East Timorese independence was relayed to him?
If I was Gough, I’d be claiming Altzeimer’s has finally taken its toll. That would be consistent with the various memoirs he’s written and his constant denials of Australian knowledge.

Read more at the SMH Online
and this background piece at Scoop which covers some of the ‘untold’ story about a high-level cover-up. the case has been in and out of the spotlight for many years. Reporters Without Borders recently reported on secrecy surrounding the coronial inquest when it began in February 2007.
Greg Shackleton’s wife, Shirley, has fought tirelessly for the true story of her husband’s murder to be told. Here’s a grab of a story from the Dart Center for journalism and trauma, from October last year:

Shirley Shackleton—whose husband, Australian journalist Greg Shackleton, was murdered in East Timor in 1975—has been asking the same question for 30 years: “I want to know what happened to my husband and his colleagues,” she says. “Why were these people murdered in cold blood?”

A very good question, it’s about time someone was held responsible.

Shirley Shackleton
Photo by Cait McMahon

Free Speech and the Fiji Coup

April 14, 2007

There’s a lot of sh*t going down in Fiji right now. The coup led by the military strong man Frank Bainimarama has just disbanded the country’s Great Council of Chiefs. No great loss you might think, this is the same body that has backed pretty much every other coup in the Pacific nation going right back to the first one in the late 1980s.

But now Fiji’s small and vulnerable free press is under attack. Read more here and here