Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Great Spin on the Death of Diversity.

SDL stalwart, Mere Samisoni wrote an over-zealous Letter to the Fiji Times Editor, which was later rebutted by a well informed reader. The following is an excerpt of Samisoni's letter that, maliciously mis-represented research on cultural diversity from a US academic, Dr Robert Putnam:

Tunnel vision

While I respect Dr Wadan Narsey's professional opinion (FT 14/8), I think he may have been guilty of some artistic licence. In order to create some balance in his story, I think he greatly overplayed the alleged "tunnel vision" of the SDL so as not to make the evident and empirical tunnel vision of the interim regime, which seem too bad in comparison. Or perhaps he did it to help the interim regime, see how badly even political moderates such as him perceive it these days.

Whatever the case, the damaging and costly tunnel vision of the interim regime is qualitatively different from the election-promise-keeping fidelity of the SDL party, which may seem like tunnel vision at first blush.

So there is no need for the interim regime to continue with its present course and tactics, since they are not achieving anything (except more divisiveness, rancour, corruption and financial liability).

By contrast, the SDL was and is required by common sense and fidelity to keep our promises to our electorate. That is not to say that compromise and moderation were not possible.

But those must be handled astutely and carefully and doubly so when you are required to deal with someone as wily and devious as the multi-party Cabinet. We also need to develop and show a lot more political maturity than the interim regime and its supporters have been able to demonstrate so far.

For instance, Dr Putnam of Harvard, an American expert on civic engagement, (2000 cited in Diversity 2007), found that social capital in the form of neighbourhood friendship and political involvement have been diminished by race/ethnic diversity in communities.

This research proves the obvious societal point that people are tribal and gravitate toward those who look like them.

Which confirms the often cited advice from former prime minister Laisenia Qarase that "race is a fact of life".

So the sooner the interim regime grows up and accepts this, the sooner we'll be able to deal with it rationally and representatively.

Mere Samisoni
MP Lami Open

Mere Samisoni's flawed quotes of US Academic, Robert Putnam, received a stern rebuke in a correspondence to Fiji Sun Letters to the Editor column.

Racial diversity
Last updated 8/30/2007 9:08:00 AM

Srikant Krishan.
Houston, US

Iwould like to clear the air about some assertions made by a politician in Fiji on the issue of racial and ethnic diversity.

Recent citation by a leading figure of scholar Robert Putnam's work leads to drawing erroneous conclusions, demonstrates the writer's desire to misinform public debate, and should be considered highly irresponsible.

Putnam's latest work is part of his ongoing research on the decline of American civic life since the 1970s - a period of time that encapsulates great social change, the decline of industrial America, rise in immigration, and remarkable shifts in technology.

His latest discoveries are politically charged precisely because they can be misused. Ms Samisoni does just that, shape the debate in a manner that supports conclusions backing her political vision.

To protect his work from such misuse, Putnam offers the following warning to his readers:

“It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity,”.
And at the same time, “It would be equally unfortunate if an a historical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.”

It is this latter group that Ms Samisoni and her cohorts fall into. Of course, they don't seek to avoid addressing the issue. Their intention is to garner support for their narrow vision of possible solutions.

Race is a reality of life, especially as identity increasingly becomes a growing fault line for conflict in the 21st century. Only informed debate can help bring us to the solutions, which harness diversity as a strength.

Nothing in Putnam's work suggests that diversity has to be a burden. If anything, it is meant to show us that to truly make our differences our strengths. Much work remains to be done.

Who is this academic called Dr Robert Putnam, which Samisoni erroneously quotes? National Public Radio interviews the man himself, in the context of cultural diversity. Diversity Magazine argues in one article that Putnam's views on the effects of cultural diversity have been mis-understood. It's also the same article which Mere Samisoni cited in her 'Letter to the Editor'.

It was one thing, bordering on reprehensible for Mere Samisoni to plagiarize excerpts of Diversity magazine's article, that quoted Dr Putnam's research. But it is another matter, when this research is blatantly sliced and diced to support an ethno-nationalistic viewpoint in Fiji. This wilfull act raises serious and rational questions, regarding the very integrity of the Ex-Officio from Lami Open.

The following excerpt is the article from Diversity Magazine. The sentence in bold font, represents the words lifted by Mere Samisoni:

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page argues that research from Harvard professor Dr. Robert Putnam proves "The Death of Diversity." That's not what Dr. Putnam said. In a study that has received significant media attention, he found that social capital in the form of neighborhood friendships and political involvement has been diminished by racial/ethnic diversity in communities.

Dr. Putnam's research is solid and proves the obvious societal point that people are tribal and gravitate toward those who look like them.
But a thorough examination of his study shows that he finds in the long run that immigration and diversity immensely benefit U.S. society both economically and socially. In reference to business, Dr. Putnam states unequivocally that most studies of work groups "find that diversity fosters creativity" and that there is "powerfully summarized evidence that diversity (especially intellectual diversity) produces much better, faster problem-solving."

Point-by-Point Rebuttal

The Wall Street Journal column, written by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Journal's editorial page, is not the first newspaper or opinion writer to discuss Dr. Putnam's study since it came out in June. Here's what The Wall Street Journal wrote and our responses, based on a thorough examination of Dr. Putnam's research and DiversityInc's own research.

* WSJ writes: "Now comes word that diversity as an ideology may be dead, or not worth saving."

DiversityInc response: This is not what Dr. Putnam says in any way. He writes in the study: "Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of my own country demonstrates."

* WSJ writes: "Colleagues and diversity advocates, disturbed at what was emerging from the study, suggested alternative explanations. Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fail."

DiversityInc response: Again, the efficacy of Dr. Putnam's study and data is not in dispute. Dr. Putnam does not say that "trust, altruism and community cooperation fail" but that there needs to be a greater effort to create "shared identities."

He writes: "Successful immigrant societies create new forms of social solidarity ... by constructing new, more encompassing identities. Thus, the central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of 'we.'" He cites the historic way immigrants came to the United States, "hunkered down," and eventually changed the culture of the country itself as they became part of the mainstream.

* WSJ writes: "The 'antis' [anti-immigration proponents] believe the Putnam study hammers the final intellectual nail in the coffin of immigration and diversity."

DiversityInc response: This is exactly the opposite of what Dr. Putnam intends. He writes in the study: "The weight of the evidence suggests that the net effect of immigration is to increase national income ... In short, immigration and multicultural diversity have powerful advantages for both sending and receiving countries."

* WSJ writes: "The diversity ideologues deserve whatever ill tidings they get. They're the ones who weren't willing to persuade the public of diversity's merits, preferring to turn 'diversity' into a political and legal hammer to compel compliance."

DiversityInc response: As participation in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® survey shows, corporations recognize the business benefits of diversity and are increasingly using diversity as the competitive differentiator in their direct lines of business. This is not compliance; this is good business (317 companies participated last year, up more than 100 percent over the last three years).

* WSJ writes: "The first chart offered in the Putnam study depicts inexorably rising rates of immigration in many nations. The idea that the U.S. can wave into effect a 10-year 'time out' on immigration flows is as likely as King Canute commanding the tides to recede."

DiversityInc response: We agree that the flow of immigration is inevitable. It's also highly desirable since this nation is facing a serious gap in workers, and immigrants have driven 47 percent of U.S. work-force growth since 2000.

New immigrants and their children will account for 100 percent of U.S. work-force growth between 2010 and 2030, according to the Population Reference Bureau. For more on immigrants' crucial role in the U.S. economy, see the September 2007 issue of DiversityInc magazine, out soon.

About the Study

Dr. Putnam conducted his research in 2000 in conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau. He had a sample size of about 30,000 people across the United States. People in 41 different communities from Los Angeles and Chicago to small towns and rural areas were surveyed and sorted into the same classifications used by the Census Bureau—non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic and Asian. A national expert on civic engagement, Dr. Putnam's goal was to examine whether racial/ethnic diversity impacted social networks, which he believes are major indicators of civic well-being.

Dr. Putnam's research, published in the journal "Scandinavian Political Studies", found that all people living in racially mixed communities had a higher tendency to "hunker down" and become more isolated from their neighbors and the civic process. His research showed they volunteer less, work on community projects less often, and register to vote less.

Here are links to other news reports on the Dr. Putnam study and a synopsis of what they said:

NPR interviews Dr. Putnam, who explains what his study really means.

Syndicated columnist Clarence Page talks about the misconceptions over what Dr. Putnam said and his own experiences as a young black man in the military.

ABC News reports on the effort by anti-diversity people to wrongly use the Dr. Putnam study for their own advantage.

The Boston Globe takes a similar view and comes to the conclusion that diversity makes us all uncomfortable—and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

An Orange County Register article says Dr. Putnam makes it abundantly clear that he found no evidence of "bad race relations, or ethnically defined group hostility."

For more on DiversityInc's examination of diversity studies, both good and bad, check out Debunking Diversity Studies.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fiji Media Cartel - Grasping At Straws.

David Robie, a New Zealand academic, who specializes in media matters, comments on the objections by the industry cartel against the Media Inquiry.

Fiji Times Editorial responded to Dr Shameem's remarks with an exceptional display of predictable belligerence.

The following is an excerpt:

Shameem's wrong

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Fiji Human Rights Commission has again got it wrong.

This time its director, Dr Shaista Shameem, says this newspaper, the Fiji Media Council and another newspaper"appear to be willfully obstructing and hindering the performance of Human Rights Commission's functions in breach of Section 47 (2) of the Human Rights Commission Act".

She refers to comments and reports in the two newspapers and communications between the council and the commission on matters relating to the media inquiry conducted by Doctor James Anthony on behalf of the FHRC.

She threatens to take legal action against all of us if"there is any further harassment of Dr Anthony" by the council and the two newspapers.

It will be interesting how she will prove in court, if it indeed reaches there, how we have been obstructing, hindering or resisting her work.

All the Media Council has been trying to point out to her and the commission is the apparent oversight in consulting stakeholders in the industry on the inquiry and its term of reference.

Why the heavy hand? Surely we, like anyone else in this land, are allowed to make known our views on such an important issue and Dr Anthony's credentials.

If Dr Shameem says that the Human Rights Act prohibits us that right, then she seriously should consider seeking a second opinion. Her threat to take legal action could be read as an attempt to obstruct us from exercising our constitutional right to freedom of speech. In fact there is a strong urge right now to lodge a complaint with the Fiji Human Rights Commission against herself for this reason.

Secondly, the council had shown its disappointment at the way Dr Anthony insulted and abused council secretary Bob Pratt on the phone. It is totally uncalled for and unprofessional. He wanted to complain about an article about him, but didn't want to follow established complaint procedures, and was, apparently, very rude about it twice. Dr Anthony has not bothered, as the council had requested, to apologise to Mr Pratt.

Dr Shameem's threat to take legal action is not going to stop this newspaper from commenting on the media inquiry, or on Dr Anthony's conduct. We doubt it will stop any media outlet, or the Media Council.

She should perhaps expect more comment: we consider her aggressive, misplaced threat a serious issue which not only concerns the media but which directly threatens an important constitutional right called"freedom of speech".

She should be well familiar with such rights, since she heads the body entrusted with the upholding of such rights. Dr Shameem has urged the Fiji Media Council to seek legal advice on the issue. We urge Dr Shameem to abandon this"tough guy" approach. It's unnecessary, and will ultimately have no effect. Consultation and discussion as we have been urging remains the answer, not dictatorial guidelines and misplaced legalese.

It's a prescription the FHRC could follow for everyone's sake.

Fiji Times published an article, quoting Fiji Human Rights Commission Representative, who alluded that the media cartel was "wilfully obstructing and hindering" the media inquiry in Fiji.

This is an excerpt of the FT article:

Shameem warns dailies

Fiji Times
Thursday, August 23, 2007

THE Fiji Human Rights Commission has warned two dailies that "any further harassment of Dr (James) Anthony" will require them to take legal action against the newspapers.

In a letter addressed to Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte yesterday, Commission director Doctor Shaista Shameem said she had reviewed the media coverage of the media inquiry it was conducting through Dr Anthony, by The Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun as well as the recent exchange of letters between Dr Anthony and Mr Tarte. She said she found the two dailies appeared to be willfully obstructing and hindering the performance of the Commission's functions, which breached section 47 (2) of the Commission Act.

"If there is further harassment of Dr Anthony by yourself or the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun, I will have no option but to institute legal proceedings under section 47 (2)," said Dr Shameem. She said the Commission had no knowledge of the contents of Dr Anthony's findings with respect to freedom and independence of the media and would await his report.

[Shameem] said they were duty-bound to ensure Dr Anthony was permitted to do the work for the Commission without hindrance, victimisation or willful obstruction. Dr Shameem suggested that the letter be copied to the council and the newspapers' lawyers so that discussions on the legal implications "of such willful interference in the Commission's media inquiry by the media industry" could be held.

She said she had advised Dr Anthony not to speak to both newspapers and Mr Tarte.

"The independence of his report and personal reputation will henceforth be protected by the Human Rights Commission under the legal processes available to it," she said.Mr Tarte declined to comment on the issue, while Fiji Sun editor Leone Cabenatabua said they had not received anything as yet.

The Fiji Times editor Samisoni Kakaivalu said: "We, like anyone else in this land, should be allowed to make known our views on such an important issue and Dr Anthony's credentials."If Dr Shameem says that the Human Rights Act prohibits us that right, then she seriously should consider seeking a second opinion. Her threat to take legal action could be read as an attempt to obstruct us from exercising our constitutional right to freedom of speech."

Although, Fiji Times had provided reader feedback to this particular story; it is apparent that many posts that were critical of the Fiji Times were unceremoniously deleted by the webmaster. In addition, the next day the link to this feedback was conveniently hidden on Fiji Times website, while still available to the readers who examined their browser history tab.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Doctoring the Truth- Across the Great Divide of Two Patriots with PhDs.

Fiji born Historian Brij Lal, who is based in Australia National University, recently made legal interpretations on the 1997 Constitution; regarding the issue of GCC members.

GCC suspension unlawful: Dr Lal

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A co-architect of the 1997 Constitution, Doctor Brij Lal, says the institution of the Great Council of Chiefs still exists because the laws of Fiji have not been abrogated.

Dr Lal said any suggestion that the GCC had been suspended was unlawful. "The membership of the GCC is provided for in the Fijian Affairs Act," Dr Lal said.
"The Act would have to be amended to provide for any Fijian Affairs Minister to make any intervention at all to the august institution as that move is against the current laws that exist," he said.

Dr Lal said the idea that the GCC was to be part of any government of the day was incorrect because the council was an autonomous institution as clearly stipulated in the Constitution.

"The prevailing feeling within the community is for the council to remain autonomous so it can discharge its responsibilities to the nation as a whole rather than to the tune of any particular government in power," [Lal] said.

"Dr Lal said the chiefs wanted to be seen as a voice of reason and wisdom providing guidance to all the people of Fiji regardless of race. "

"If need be the chiefs can be critical of the government which is within their moral authority. Making the council part of the Government would be completely inappropriate because the country wants to see them for everyone and free from any political affiliation or agenda. After all, they are not just a rubber stamp as members of the council, elect the President and the Vice-President of this country and people need to respect that important role," [Lal] said.

Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau has announced plans to revamp the composition of the council.

On the four chiefs and their legal team who filed for legal redress over the council's suspension by the interim Government, Ratu Epeli said they had misinterpreted the revocation of the regulation that formalised the suspension.

The chiefs include ousted GCC chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini, Ka Levu Ratu Sakiusa Makutu, Bau chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau and Ratu Ratavo Lalabalavu. They were seeking a judicial review of the council's suspension and termination of its membership by Ratu Epeli.

After the revocation of the suspension was announced, [GCC members] asked the court that the case be discontinued. [GCC members] said they had reached an amicable arrangement in which the regulation of April 17 which suspended the council had been revoked.

Ratu Epeli later said there were no conditions attached to the agreement with the chiefs to revoke the regulation.

The following excerpt, is another opinion article of Dr. Brij Lal, who speculates on the events arising in the wake of Fiji's 2006 coup.

Fiji: Like a duck treading water

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fiji today is like a duck treading water, a Fijian political operative told me the other day. 'All calm on the surface, but unknown currents churning beneath.' As a description of the current state of affairs in Fiji, the imagery is pretty apt.

From various government quarters, the talk of change and improvement is optimistic. The so-called 'clean up campaign' is proceeding apace, we are told, the economy is on the mend, the country is at peace, and the people are 'moving on.' That is the official line: nonchalance in some circles, assertive self-confidence, arrogance even, in others.

" It is true that the country has not descended into the kind of civil strife some feared when the coup took place and people in all walks of life are muddling along, coping as best they can with what they have. But there is a palpable sense of fragility in the air, the sense that things could go wrong at any time."

Mr Taniela Tabu's experience is a case in point. With the Public Emergency Regulations suspended, Mr Tabu thought he was entitled to his freedom of speech guaranteed under the constitution.

He believed the interim administration was in charge of the country. But arrested and taken to the barracks, he was, he has told the country and the international community, physically humiliated and his life threatened if he continued to speak up. The military council was apparently still in place and in control, very much so. There were the predictable denials from the QEB, but Mr Tabu's account was credible, his injured outrage believable.

The extreme touchiness of the interim administration and the military to any criticism of its action is evident. It instills fear and fosters self-censorship in the populace. To be issued death threats for calling for the resignation of a minister from government says a great deal about the state of affairs in Fiji today.

The revocation of the suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs by the interim Minister for Fijian Affairs is widely welcomed, encouraging the hope that it may be a harbinger of things to come. The dropping of the cases against Superintendent Josaia Rasiga and Mr Ali is also noteworthy, suggesting perhaps that the State's case against them lacked credible evidence. Is this too a harbinger of things to come? The legal fraternity's mettle will be sorely tested in the months ahead as other notable cases come up before the courts.

The interim administration's optimistic claims about the economy go against the assessments of virtually all the leading businessmen with whom I have spoken.

Contraction is the order of the day, they tell me, in some sectors by as much as 30-40 percent. There is no new investment, and many projects with huge investment and employment potential have been frozen.

They are not likely to re-activated any time soon. 'We are in a shock,' a leading businessman tells me, after attending a board meeting of his company.

What, I ask, will it take to kick-start the economy?

Firm commitment to returning the country to parliamentary democracy, the businessmen tell me. They place much hope on the interim administration's undertaking given to the European Union that the next general election will be held by March 2009. Without that, the country is looking down at the barrel of the gun, so to speak.

The question is: will general election be held within the time frame stipulated by the EU?

There are those who are optimistic, but I have deep doubts. The Fiji Labour Party has stated that holding general election should not be the country's priority; getting the essential electoral infrastructure right should be: conducting a census, drawing up electoral boundaries, educating the voters. Accomplishing these before 2009 may not be feasible.

The interim Prime Minister has said on various occasions that the timing of the next general election is a matter for Fiji to decide, not for the international community to dictate. The 'clean-up campaign' should be seen through to completion. Then there is the so-called 'President's Mandate' whose fulfilment forms a critical justification of the interim administration's existence. The deeply fraught proposed charter to build a better Fiji with the assistance of the civil society is another story, possibly another delaying tactic. But there is a deeper fear that drives the interim administration.

" That is that if elections were held today, or in 2009, the SDL will be returned to power with a thumping Fijian majority. In this assessment, they are correct. Fijian support for the SDL has strengthened, not lessened, in the last six months."

And it will not diminish any time soon. The more the Fijians feel marginalised and excluded, the greater the support for the SDL will be.

'Qarase is not coming back,' Commodore Bainimarama and others in the military have said over and over again. Delaying the election would hopefully achieve that goal, given the former prime minister's advancing years.

The SDL's party infrastructure too could be weakened, if not dismantled in the intervening period, paving the way for a political party, so it is hoped, more acceptable to the military and more understanding of its plans for Fiji. But this thinking is myopic and victory, if there is one, will be pyrrhic.

If the Fijian community continues to feel marginalised and excluded from power, its cherished institutions symbolically humiliated and sidelined, there will be Qarases galore in the future. And they could well be less mindful of multi-ethnic sensitivities and the need for multi-ethnic accommodation than Mr Qarase and other politicians of his vintage.

Talking to Fijians on the streets in Suva, admittedly a small sample, I get the definite sense of frustrated silence in the Fijian community. They feel helpless, hobbled and humiliated. 'What can we do,' a man says to me. 'The guns are there.' There is a silent but definite hardening of race relations. The signs are everywhere.

Every issue, every challenge, is viewed through the prism of race. Predominantly Indian trade unions struck an early deal with the interim administration while predominantly Fijian ones struck, I am told. It is not as simple as that, for support for or against the interim administration is divided across the communities. Not all Indians support the coup, nor all Fijians oppose it. But perceptions, right or wrong, do matter. And the omens do not look good.

The government's handling of the strike has left a bitter taste in many mouths. Its rigid and even vindictive approach to industrial relations, its unwillingness to go to arbitration, its determination to frustrate and break up the trade union movement not willing to succumb to its pressure, all done ironically with the support of some compliant trade union leaders, leaves a sad legacy. The government says its coffers are empty, but then spends funds on purchasing vehicles and paying private attorneys to fight its cases. Somewhere, the priorities have gone wrong.

Repairing or in some instances rebuilding bridges of understanding and tolerance between the two main communities is an urgent challenge for the interim administration.

Preoccupied with its own survival amidst unrelenting international pressure unlikely to end any time soon, it has adopted an ad-hoc, fire-containing, approach to the challenges facing it: an enquiry here, a raid there, a plea for aid and assistance and skilled personnel from this country or that.

All this points to one inescapable truth: Fiji is a part of the international community; it is an island, yes, but an island in the physical sense alone. We cannot afford to thumb our noses at the international community and then expect to escape retribution. Sooner rather than later, the larger challenges of the proper way to build a multi-ethnic nation will return to haunt the nation.

The revocation of the suspension of the GCC augurs well for the future of the country. One hopes that the currents underneath are as calm as the surface upon which the duck treads water. Any other scenario is simply too terrible to contemplate.

Brij V Lal is a historian and writer based at the Australian National University. Views expressed here are his own, not his employer's.

Dr. Lal's selective perspective was fact checked and rebutted by a 'Letter to the Editor', published in Fiji Daily Post from newly appointed consultant to Fiji's Media Inquiry, Dr James Anthony. The following is an excerpt:

Brij-ing that gap

he public has been treated to two recent statements (Saturday August 11 and Sunday August 12) by Brij Lal, a historian who is attached to the Australian National University in Canberra.

Dr Lal, it should be noted, is a historian – he is not a lawyer or a political scientist by professional training. More importantly, Lal, as far as I know – does not speak or read Bauan – or, if he does, his command of the language is brittle and limited at best.

1. The “duck treading water” article in one of the dailies is full of unsupported Brij Lal speculation. Some examples: “… there is a palpable sense of fragility in the air, the sense that things could go wrong at any time.” People who read Brij Lal’s newspaper speculation are entitled to know what are the “things that could go wrong”, what evidence is there, besides Lal’s bland speculation, for the suggestion that there is a “sense of fragility” in the air. Or, are these kinds of generalisation designed to create a general sense of unease, a tendency to create instability?

2. Lal speculates that “Fijian support for the SDL has strengthened, not lessened.” Has Lal conducted any polls to reach such a conclusion or is this assessment born of his “talking to a small sample of Fijians on the streets of Suva – in fact, talking to a small sample of Fijians on the streets of Suva in English?

3. Lal said that he gets the definite feeling that Fijians are possessed of a sense of frustrated silence and says that they feel “helpless, hobbled and humiliated … and that there is a definite hardening of race relations”. Granted that Lal has a right to voice these musings but he does not have the right to foist them on us without evidence.

4. And then there have been shallow and simplistic statements: “Not all Indians support the coup, nor all Fijians oppose it”! Do we need a historian from the ANU to tell us this? That all Indians do not support the present government and neither do all Fijians, is a glimpse of the obvious.

People’s opinions on recent and not so recent political events in Fiji differ. They have always differed – the sign of a healthy society where different views exit and compete with each other for acceptance. Perhaps we don’t do this very well or very elegantly in Fiji but, nevertheless, we try: we are learning … perhaps too slowly for Lal but we are learning slowly and perhaps, painfully. But we are learning.

The second article headed “GCC suspension unlawful” is pretty thin by any standard.

"First of all, Lal is not a lawyer. To blandly pronounce the GCC suspension unlawful is to engage in what Americans call the “unauthorised practice of law.” The tenor and substance of Lal’s arguments on this issue are thin at best. "

But there is a larger issue at stake here. I have learned from many years in Hawaii, looking at and studying indigenous people’s movements and the dynamics of their politics, that one has to realise that these are complex matters possessed of many layers, many sinews, many shades of meaning.

The metaphor of indigenous people’s cultures and their cultural motifs are subtle and often times possessed of a complexity that is elusive. All of us – and that includes historians, perhaps, especially historians, are all ill equipped by reason of intellectual preparation to analyse politics and the ebb and flow of indigenous people’s political events, need to be especially careful in our pronouncements about indigenous matters.

In this great debate about sovereignty that has occupied native Hawaiians for the last 40 years – one thing has been made manifestly clear: Hawaiians resent and are deeply suspicious of non-Hawaiians offering speculative and other thoughts on what Hawaiians think or – what might be good for them.

Lal, who has spent time in Hawaii, appears not to have learned that important lesson. That’s unfortunate. When Lal, under cover of his historian mantle and his connection to the 1997 Constitution makes pronouncements about current events in Fiji he is not a duck treading water but acting like a tourist, unaware that he is in shark-infested waters, ventures sufficiently far away from shore that he leaves himself open … well … for want of a better term … shark attack.

The complex issues that have to do with indigenous people’s politics – indeed all politics of whatever culture, Fijian, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan – whatever else – are areas of intellectual inquiry into which we should tread carefully, and with great respect – particularly – if like Dr Lal, we are hobbled by the fact that we force ourselves into the mine-ridden field of indigenous politics presumably without speaking their language. Lal’s observation – and there have been many in recent months – ought to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt – full of apparent sound and fury, not signifying very much.

The views, opinions and arguments expressed in the article above are entirely those of the author and not the Fiji Daily Post.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Election Announcement Was A Joke.

Fiji's Interim Prime Minister said that the date announced in the media recently, was really a joke. As much as the election announcement surprised many, being sold a dummy, also rankles many honest observers..

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fiji Interim Government - Elections in March 2009.

The announcement of the 2009 election by the Interim Government may have taken everyone by surprise. It marks an interesting development to the clean up campaign and may indicate the phase change from investigations into corruption, to actually prosecution. FICAC has attracted the services of a New Zealand lawyer, Paul Johnson from Christchurch for consultancy.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Fiji has more friends than Clark [& Downer]

Aust/NZ out in cold over Fiji - 11 Aug 2007 - NZ Herald: World / International NewsAs predicted the rest of the pacific nations are refusing to back Clark's call to toss Fiji out of the Pacific Forum Leaders Summit in Tonga. This comes in the wake of Clark's remark speculating that, Fiji Interim Prime Minister would be "treated like a leper", which ignited a firestorm of protests from advocates of the disease. Australia's Foreign Minister has also caught the 'Foot-In-Mouth' virus, as far as some Pacific Island leaders are concerned; by distancing themselves from Downer's blanket statement alluding that, all members of the South Pacific Forum would not welcome the Interim Fiji Prime Minister.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Seabed Mania in the South Pacific- Claims & Counter Claims.

Russia's new claim using the Doctrine of Discovery, to the seabed under the Artic polar ice cap, has a New Zealand connection. The most conspicuous link was with a NZ company, as this New Zealand Herald article explains.

The other link to Russia's extension of their continental shelf, is that the New Zealand Government has undertaken a similar extension to their own continental shelf, protruding North into the waters of the South Pacific, adjacent to Economic Exclusive Zones(EEZ) of Tonga and Fiji.

New Zealand had conducted preliminary discussions with Fiji and Tonga with respect to the area of overlapping continental shelf along the Colville and Kermadec Ridge complex that extends from the north of the North Island to Fiji and Tonga. Under the U.N Law of the Seas, to extend a zone, a state has to prove that the structure of the continental shelf is similar to the geological structure within its territory.

What actually could limit New Zealand's territorial claim was the issue of Fiji's claim to the Minerva reef, a coral outcrop that is also claimed by the kingdom of Tonga. This territorial dispute between Fiji and Tonga had surfaced at the 2005 Commonwealth Summit held in Malta, as a Radio NZ article describes. Whether or not this contentious issue of Minerva, will be discussed at the South Pacific Forum in Tonga is any one's guess.

Tonga will host the 2007 South Pacific Forum and the question of who will attend from Fiji's Interim Government was a matter, raised by Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer in his usual Ad Nauseum style, which was reported by a Fiji Times article.

What prompted Russia to lay claim to this North pole seabed may be the fact that it is an oil-rich region. Oil is perhaps the underlying factor for New Zealand's extension to their continental shelf. New Zealand could use diplomatic avenues to favor one island nation's claim against the other; in order to cement their own seabed claims.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Thousand Chiefs With No Followers.

The recent episode involving the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC)members, who had taken legal action challenging the suspension of their membership, took many turns.

According to the Fiji Times Editorial, there is some confusion in the understanding of this agreement; brokered by the lawyers of the GCC members that resulted in the withdrawal of their legal challenge. Inferring that the mistake was on the Government side and not the GCC members. Such are complications when dealing with parallel structures, which many Fijian commoners are now openly questioning.

One such view, was published in the Letters to Fiji Times Editor, the following is an excerpt:

Who is a chief

BRAVO to Kalivati Toso for stating plainly what most Fijians today are thinking.

The chiefs are an endangered species and destined for extinction, whether we like it or not.

A chief in the old days was a servant of his people. He would feed his people first and make sure that everyone was full before he ate. It was much like the talatala of early christianity who walked over hills and valleys for the people.

Today, the roles have reversed and this is the reason of their downfall.

When Fijians struggle to survive today, they will have little care who their chief is, for after all, a chief will not put food on the table.

Isireli Biumaitotoya

The reactions to the initial Fiji Times story, that celebrated GCC's return and reactions posted to Fiji Times website acquired many posters having the same thread of disdain with the GCC .

Confusion reigns

Monday, August 06, 2007

Withdrawal of the suspension order on the Great Council of Chiefs membership on Thursday stunned many.

More importantly, it had served as a beacon of hope that no matter the extent of differences the interim Cabinet held, they were not as hardlined as they appeared to be and were courageous enough to admit where they had made a blunder.

But whatever sense of hope or comfort gained from Thursday's development yesterday turned out to be misplaced. The public's disappointment cannot be as great as that of Great Council of Chiefs chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini and his team.

They are understandably confused at interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau's reproof that members have not been reinstated. So how is it possible that such a misunderstanding, if that is what it is, has eventuated on an issue of such national importance.

After all, Ratu Ovini said Ratu Epeli had personally confirmed this to him. He says the former military commander had assured that the membership was intact. But Ratu Epeli says the recent regulation is misunderstood because it was only aimed at reinstating the council as an institution.

To this, the GCC's legal eagles are saying that the earlier regulation had only effected a suspension of the membership. For apparently, the initial regulation did not seek to make the institution defunct because this was not possible.

Such a move would have required a constitutional amendment and without an elected Parliament, this was impossible unless the Constitution was abrogated. Now Ratu Ovini and his team have to consider pursuing legal redress, again.

While the translation of the recent gazette would likely be argued, the validity of Ratu Epeli's directives in general would be the council's best bet. Once again, the State's manpower and already strained resources will be directed at fighting a losing battle in court.

It is a battle already lost because no matter how eloquent and impressive the State presents its arguments, nothing can change the facts of how the interim Cabinet came to be. Ratu Epeli says much will be explained after the interim Cabinet's meeting tomorrow.

Let's hope that his statements tomorrow will make sense of this bewildering situation, rather than add to the confusion.

In a Fiji Live article, Interim Fijian Affairs Minister announced that the GCC is not independent of Government.

This is an excerpt of the article:

Regime to spell out GCC future
Sunday August 05, 2007

Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs may not regain full control of its operations yet although its suspension was lifted by the interim Government this week.

Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said there was no condition set when the GCC agreed to withdraw its court case against the interim Government on Friday following its reinstatement by the regime.

"The decision by the court was unconditional. The Government will decide on those conditions, not the GCC. The GCC is not independent and is an arm of Government."

GCC chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini said the GCC understood that the revocation of the suspension will cease any more amendments to the GCC's governing legislation until a new government has been democratically elected in accordance with the provisions of the current Constitution.

However, Ratu Epeli said he will elaborate on the conditions on Monday. He adds the GCC is there to look after the rights of the indigenous people and "not to make decisions for Government".

The chiefs also expect the regime to reinstate the previous administrative arrangements for the support of the GCC. This would require the interim Government to preserve the substantial independence and functioning of the GCC and to finance the operation of the GCC, said Ratu Ovini.

Subsequent to the news of the rescinded GCC suspension order, the deposed GCC members began organizing plans for an impromptu meet in Bau, as an alternative venue; an offer which one GCC member later denied making.

Meanwhile, Interim Prime Minister has made it clear in another Fiji Live article that, the GCC meeting will be arranged, once the Government gives official clearance.

This is the excerpt of the article:

Govt will not acknowledge GCC meet: Voreqe
Sunday August 05, 2007

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama says the Great Council of Chiefs meetings will first have to be sanctioned by the Government.

Bainimarama told Fiji Live the last thing they want is to put economic pressure on the people of Tailevu since the Bose Ko Viti is coming up.

“The meeting has to be sanctioned by Government. They are not above Government,” he said.

Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau also stressed yesterday that the planned GCC meeting in Bau next week will not be recognised by the interim administration.

Ratu Epeli Ganilau said the Government has not given its approval for the meeting. GCC chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini could not be reached for comment but had said that the invitation from Bau chief Ratu Epenisa Cakobau for the GCC to meet in Bau is an informal one.

He said Ratu Epenisa, in his capacity as a chief, is offering the GCC members to go to Bau next week to discuss issues regarding the chiefly body.

The Tui Tavua added that Burebasaga high chief Ro Teimumu Kepa has also invited the GCC to meet next week in Lomanikoro in Rewa. Ratu Epenisa however said he made no such invitation.


It is now certain that, the Bokini's ambition to discuss the vacant position of Vice-President, is being left to simmer on the back burner; while Bokini's own tenure at the helm of GCC takes precedence.

Fiji Village article reports that, Interim Minister has suggested that there will be a new Chairperson appointed later, after emphatically pointing out that, Ratu Ovini Bokini no longer is considered as the Chair.

GCC VP appointment needs to be resolved urgently

Member of the Great Council of Chiefs, Tui Tavua Ratu Ovini Bokini say the appointment of the Vice President is a major issue which the council needs to urgently resolve.

However Ratu Epeli Ganilau said as far as the interim administration is concerned, Ratu Ovini Bokini is no longer the Chair and the member should wait for the next meeting sanctioned by the ministry to make the new appointments.

Ratu Epeli said the planned GCC meeting in Bau next week will not be recognised by the interim government.

In an exclusive interview with Legend FM news this afternoon, Ratu Bokini said that the issues regarding the appointment of the Vice President was one of the main reasons why GCC members were suspended by the interim administration.

Ratu Ovini said some GCC members will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the matter before consulting Interim Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau in good faith to sanction an official GCC meeting and allow the council to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, the Tavua High chief still maintains that he is still the Chairman of the GCC.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Whole Nine Yards - US Foreign Policy in Fiji.

The US House of Congress Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by the Democratic Gentleman from American Samoan, Honorable Eni F.H. Faleomavaega recently held a hearing named: The Impact of Section 508 Sanctions on Thailand and Fiji: Helpful or Harmful to U.S Relations?. Faleomavaega opened the meeting with a comparison of Pakistan with Fiji, in terms of sanctions and also continued to reiterate that aspect, as a counter-point to the State Department's own perspective on the issue.

Although, Glyn Davies of the State Department's Bureau of East Asian & Pacific Affairs, raised the concept of Fiji & Thailand being cajoled in returning to democracy; Davies and the US State Department ignores Pakistan's 6 years of dictatorship under General Musharraf because it suits their global interest.

The calls for Pakistan's return to democracy seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the US State Department, judging from their blatant double standards especially when US exports latest F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan and plans to diversify their exports to Saudi Arabia with more modern weapon systems, reported by an article in THE HILL which is currently receiving bi-partisan opposition in the US House.

Congressman Mark Steven Kirk, when describing Fiji's situation, used hyperbole liberally and callously declared that, "Fiji was competing with North Korea, for the worst economy in the Asia Pacific region".

Ironically, Kirk's House voting record has been tainted with questionable choices. Among the most recent, Kirk voted against H Amdt #378 the description:

H.AMDT.378 (A028)
Amends: H.R.2764
Sponsor: Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] (offered 6/21/2007)

An amendment to prohibit use of funds for programs at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation(formally School of the Americas)located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

An amendment to prohibit use of funds for programs at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formally School of the Americas) located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Obviously the School of the Americas needs no introduction in the minds of people familar with their role in Latin America.

The video source on the hearing.

The transcript excerpt:

Statement of Glyn T. Davies
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment

August 1, 2007

The Impact of Coup-Related Sanctions on Thailand and Fiji: Helpful or Harmful to U.S. Relations?

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Manzullo, and Members of the Subcommittee, like my colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary John, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. In my case, I will briefly address Fiji and the impact of Section 508 sanctions on that country.

Traditionally, Fiji has been a close and valued U.S. ally in the Pacific. It has a long history of contributing troops to multilateral peacekeeping missions, including those in Lebanon, the Sinai, the Solomon Islands, Kuwait and East Timor. Fiji was quick to condemn the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States and has been a staunch supporter of our efforts to build an international coalition against global terrorism.

The military coup of December 2006 leading to the overthrow of the lawfully elected government of Fiji has strained our relationship. Unlike in the case of Thailand, Fiji’s coup leaders have taken no credible steps to quickly restore democratic rule, other than a vague promise to hold elections in 2009.

The United States responded to the Fiji coup by publicly denouncing the military’s actions and imposing a number of sanctions, including a cessation of military and other assistance to the Government of Fiji in accordance with Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, visa bans against coup leaders, suspension of lethal military sales, and restrictions on bilateral engagement. Australia, New Zealand and the EU have authorized similar sanctions.

We are working to ensure that a legitimate government is restored in Fiji. The United States supports the initiative by the Pacific Islands Forum to help Fiji return to democracy at an early date. The U.S. has consistently called for the immediate restoration of human rights protections and civil liberties, and early elections.

I would like to emphasize that our sanctions are targeted against the coup government. The United States, however, continues to provide assistance to the people of Fiji. For example, the Department of State approved a $25,000 grant to support a program designed to strengthen Fiji’s democratic traditions. We are also looking at ways in which we might provide assistance to Fiji in support of a return to democracy, including by supporting early elections.

Fiji continues to participate in UN and multilateral peacekeeping operations, including the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (where Fiji troops provide security for UN headquarters). Although the United States decided that it will not impede Fiji’s continued participation in ongoing deployments, we have made clear to the interim government, and announced publicly, that we will not support any new military deployments absent measurable progress in returning Fiji to democratic rule. Moreover, legally mandated restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Fiji preclude the United States from providing training, equipment, and other material support to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to assist any overseas missions until a democratically elected government has taken office.

The U.S. announced sanctions against Fiji on December 5, 2006. Since then progress toward democracy has been unsatisfactory. However the interim government has said that it supports “in principle” the recent Pacific Islands Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group report stating that elections could be held by March 2009 or even as early as November 2008 if the international community provided assistance to help prepare for elections.

The U.S. is willing to support the interim government in this effort if the interim government takes concrete steps to hold elections according to the Forum-endorsed timetable.

We continue to maintain full diplomatic relations with Fiji and have made exceptions to our visa restrictions to allow senior officials of the Fiji government to come to Washington to meet with U.S. counterparts. We believe that sanctions offer the clearest message that restoration of military assistance and closer relations between the U.S. and Fiji can only resume when democracy returns to that country.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fiji Media Inquiry Welcomed By All, But the Owners. (Updated)

"Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one."
A. J. Liebling (1904 - 1963)

Fiji Media Council Chairman, wrote a letter to the Editor of the Fiji Daily Post and published on their website.

This is the excerpt:

FLP and the media


IT is sad day for Fiji when the President of a leading political party, and one that shares power with the government of the day, calls for legislation to regulate one of our fundamental freedoms - freedom of the media. For government to control the way the media operates is tantamount to putting restrictions on one of the people’s other essential freedoms - freedom of speech and expression.

If the Fiji Labour Party truly espouses democracy, it should know that in a democratic state the media is not controlled by restrictive legislation. No media is totally free. While freedom is guaranteed in our Constitution there are many specific restrictions.

It is extremely disturbing that our political leaders should be reverting to thinking like the leaders of the communist era. I am sure that it is not the party’s intention that Fiji should end up like the former Soviet state or like Zimbabwe.

But that could be the end result if they introduced legislative controls over the media. The media would be forced to conform to the will of any government of the day. It would not be allowed to publish criticism of the government.

It would have to publish government’s propaganda. One wonders what would happen to the commercial viability of the media organisations. And let us not forget that two of the current media organisations are public listed companies that are owned by the people of the nation.

Daryl Tarte,
Media Council (Fiji) Ltd.

It is rather amusing to see that, Daryl Tarte has resorted to emotional appeal to further his outrageous cause. Tarte's claim that, since two media companies are publicly traded on the South Pacific Stock Exchange(SPSE) means these companies belong to all Fiji citizens makes him a laughing stock; especially when considering he is also the Chairperson of CMDA.

Would Tarte back up his statement, by showing the actual Share Certificates from these two companies, listing all Fiji citizens as joint stock owners. Sadly, lip service and rhetoric has always been the Modus Operandi for the media cartel in Fiji.

Fiji Ombudsman has announced a local consultant in a Fiji Times article, as the head of the Media Inquiry project as well as, outlining the overwhelming support for the inquiry from the community at large.
This is the excerpt:

Local to lead media inquiry

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A LOCAL consultant has been engaged to carry out an inquiry into concerns of human rights violation in the media industry.

Fiji Ombudsman, Doctor Shaista Shameem said the identity of the consultant would be announced today when consultations begin. Dr Shameem said interest had poured in from hundreds of people including the international media who supported the inquiry.

"They talk about media freedom but where is the freedom of the journalists to express themselves. It's a contradiction."

"We even have journalists from media organisations that have opposed the inquiry," she said last night. Submissions are expected not only from journalists, but the public, unionists, civil servants and non-government organisations who, Dr Shameem said, have "all welcomed" the inquiry. Of the four media organisations that have indicated lack of participation into the inquiry, Dr Shameem said "the worst thing is that they prohibit their staff from making submissions".

"We have journalists from these organisations who have been told not to participate in the inquiry and if they do, they need the full authority of their bosses," she said.

All four media organisations, including The Fiji Times, have denied the allegations and say their staff are free to take part in the inquiry if they wish. The organisations said they had not refused to take part but had simply asked for further information and consultation on the terms of reference.

The date of submissions has been extended to August 10 to enable the consultant, who has technical support and Hansard reporters assisting him, time to cater to the large number of submissions that are expected.

Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte said he was appalled at the commission's stance not to identify the consultant.

Dr Shameem said it was no secret and this was owed to the fact that there were a number of applicants who were not advised of the successful applicant's name. "Why should it matter to him who the consultant is," Dr Shameem asked.

"The council has an agenda it seems. I regret Mr Tarte's point of view. Beats my comprehension why they're making a big song and dance about this.

"If the organisations don't want anything to do with the inquiry, they shouldn't stop their journalists," Dr Shameem said.

Mr Tarte said the commission had failed to consult the council members and stakeholders over the inquiry.

He said some members of the industry had expressed concern over a number of issues which remained unresolved and until they were resolved, the council's position on the inquiry would remain unchanged.

Dr Shameem said the commission was an independent body with its own mandate, duties and responsibilities and did not need to consult prior to the inquiry.

"The terms of reference were clear. It was advertised and sent to all media organisations and journalists. Do they want to override everything?" "I rang up a public member of the council after The Fiji Times ran a story against the inquiry.

"He said he didn't know anything about the decision of the council so I told him to consult with his members and find out.

Dr Shameem said she would not be involved in the inquiry and neither would her staff. Mr Tarte is expected to issue a statement today.

Dr Shameem may have inadvertently exposed the lack of transparency in the decision making process within the Fiji Media Council (FMC). It appears that the cartel of four largest media companies have dominated the FMC to such an extent that, it has become more of a proxy office responding only to the concerns of the cartel and failing to consult with the community appointed members; who appear to be just token members with little influence to control the direction and policies of FMC.

In a Fiji TV news segment, the heads of the four largest media companies backpedaled from their grandstanding threat of not participating in the inquiry, stating that they were just waiting for the terms of reference and the naming of the incumbent head to the Media Inquiry.

Meanwhile, the Radio Fiji news article actually names the incumbent.

This is the excerpt:

Dr James Anthony appointed to conduct Media Inquiry
Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dr JAMES Anothny has been appointed by the Fiji Human Rights Commission to conduct the media Inquiry.

The inquiry is based on the requirements of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments protecting and promoting freedom and independence of the media.

The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry is to provide an overview of the range of media available in Fiji including ownership and scope of operations.

It will also review the freedom and independence of the media and assess Fiji’s compliance with them and other issues.

The inquiry is an update of a report given by Dr. Shaista Shameem to the international NGO Article 19 in 1987.

Fiji media cartel of 4, responded to Dr. Shameem's remarks in an article by the Fiji Times and a Fiji Village article. Communications Fiji Ltd owner, William Parkinson, who asked for the terms of reference for the Media Inquiry on the Fiji Village article soundbite. Parkinson's response seems more of a flimsy explanation to the flip-flopping objection raised days earlier, by labeling this inquiry as biased.

Although, considered by many as long overdue, this media inquiry in Fiji comes at the unique time, when Fiji Times parent company News Corp, the flag ship company of Rupert Murdoch, just purchased the Dow Jones company and business daily, Wall Street Journal reported by an article by Wired. Incidentally, this resistance to the Media Inquiry in Fiji, would be a skirmish followed with much interest, even by Rupert himself.

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