The recent off-again and on-again Pacific Islands Forum recently held in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea; was a series of interesting and extending displays of Trans-Tasman belligerence and bullying.
Without a doubt this festoon filled dog and pony show, lost it's regional street credibility before it even begun, partly due to the alleged and rather unfortunate communication break down between the host, PNG and the Forum.
The meeting host Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea was reported to have postponed the meet to a later date. His decision was over-ruled by Toki Talangi, the Forum Chair and Niue Premier (who prior to the meet, blamed the media for the cold relations between the Forum and Fiji).
Talangi's dramaturgical hubris continue, inadvertently shaming the host, Somare, to a subsequent apology to the forum. Somare later requested the Forum's forgiveness for his postponement announcement, without prior consultation.
Talangi is quoted in an ABC News article [http://www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/transform.pl?telstra~World&imode/2477789] in an overreaching statement:
“Two years is too long for the military to enforce its will on Fiji's people”.
It would be rather naïve for Talangi to use the Forum instruments to interfere with the domestic affairs of the member states and this intrusion has disastrous implications.
What's next, having the Forum determine eligible participants and draw up electoral boundaries and outline campaign financing rules?
New Zealand's nascent Prime Minister's attendance to the forum also marks a cynical end to his political honeymoon, prompting his loutish remarks concerning Fiji.
According to Oscar Wilde: “Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.” Without a doubt, such ridicule is the currency used by the Trans-Tasman neighbors.
Obviously the proverbial line which Australia's Prime Minster, Kevin Rudd, who drew in the sandy beach on behalf of the Forum, in an apparent message for Fiji, forgot about local tide conditions and that his neo-colonist demarcation, was washed away by the incoming wave of new ideals and perspectives.
The Forum's implied threats for Fiji, to 'get with the program' of democracy is on one hand, seen as a "Hail Mary pass" to restore the Forum's regional credibility, which was fully torn to shreds, by the arrogant Trans-Tasman diplomacy. On the other hand, the Forum's ultimatum marks a high-water mark; for the region's inability to remove their dependence, on the handouts from the neighborhood bullies.
To just simply execute the act of holding elections, would not change the present fundamental and structural malaise. This notion of 3 minute democracy is without a doubt, a Trans-Tasman lobbied premise, based on instant gratification. In the act of gavage, the Forum has set out a May 1st deadline for automatic suspension.
Using the proverbial sliding scale of democracy, the scale and magnitude of democracy demanded by this May 1st ultimatum issued by the Forum is at the bare minimum. What Fiji's interim Government had outlined via the Charter, is at the maximum setting, an unique and genuine road map to true democracy. Not the 3 minute variety demanded by the Forum.
The analogy of such decisions that will be made by the people of Fiji, is akin to comparing microwave TV dinner meals and the physically laboring task of making a lovo meal (underground oven). Both tasks involve food, but the TV Dinner takes about 3 minutes to prepare, as opposed to the 5-8 hours needed for a lovo. Instant democracy, would also be a choice, appearing at the bottom on the list of favorites, for most Fiji people.
Such bureaupathic remarks made by the Niue Premier, leader of a client state, represents the fleeting 'go-along-to-get-along' fulcrum to the Trans-Tasman leverage. The targeted approach of Pacific Island leaders, involve subtle arm twisting and palm greasing; packaged into the Trans-Tasman diplomatic and media assault. A carefully created, crafted and coordinated web of 'beggar thy neighbor' politics.
The Forum's bureaucratic incapacity has been largely due to the Trans-Tasman insistence of taking up the burden of the empire, by controlling the agenda of the organization. This sad state of affairs in the Forum has been outlandishly ignored by Fiji's media industry, undoubtedly partly due to their overwhelmingly Australian ownership. IG blog posting also addresses this concern.
The Forum's main bolstering argument was that, Fiji needs to have elections as soon as possible. They denounced the fact the interim Prime Minister broke alleged promises for March 2009 elections, selectively ignoring the fact that the deadline was brokered by dubious circumstances, one involving the Tongan Prime Minister, Dr. Fred Sevele and never recognized as a bi-lateral agreement in the first place, legally speaking.
"A thunderous peel of silence echo in the hallways of many of Pacific island press rooms"
Yet, while this minor and petty issue is being regurgitated ad nauseam by the Trans-Tasman bullies and their hand puppets in the Forum and in the media. This exercise can be described accurately to be following Northcote Parkinson's Law of Triviality: “the time spent on any item of the agenda will be an inverse proportion to the sum involved”.
A point which never seems to amaze many international and local bystanders but certainly not the good old boys in the Forum; who outweighed Fiji's alleged promises with the far more egregious and serious breaches by other Forum member states.
Case in point, Australia's invasion of Fiji pre- 2006 coup, via the Black hawk helicopter episode and the active non-compliance of Fiji's immigration statutes resulting in several Australian Special Forces troopers bearing a large silver box supposedly carrying weapons, detouring around internationally accepted and practiced immigration checks.
A thunderous peel of silence echo in the hallways of many of Pacific island press rooms, amid hushed stares drilled into any journalist and the subsequent ostracizing of those who dare ask their Australian or New Zealand publisher, the question of moral equivalence.
The Forum's decision (with no doubt with Australia's prodding)to link the deportation of the Fiji Times publisher, Rex Gardner to the political affairs of Fiji is another resounding exclamation mark.
Australia led the condemnation and piled on the scorn as if the publisher, Rex Gardner was their leading diplomat. Or was he and the others before him, have undisclosed speak easy links with the local Australian Embassy?
In a covert sense, Gardner was doing his other job, the task of publishing a fifth column of sorts, a talking points paradigm, that unethically twists and slants the news reportage and overwhelmingly uses gate keeping manipulation to the Letters To The Editor articles; in a fashion that overly permits one side of the debate to a political issue and silencing dissenting opinions.
And when the general public and the state recognize such underhanded practices of journalism; the media industry of Fiji, are quick to hide behind the skirts of press freedom.
Not surprising considering Editorial opinions by the Fiji Times and Fiji Sun both recipients of legal action from the State and the former entity was recently fined heavily for such actions, an un-removable and notwithstanding embarrassing stain to the entire profession.
The well used excuse of media muzzling, has somewhat morphed into a case of the 'boy who cried wolf'. This attention seeking disorder, is perhaps a reflection of an industry reeling from the current global downward trend in advertising sales and the ripple effects are smaller circulations. Nothing like a scandal to elevate sales.
Why not in Fiji?
The question of How and Why despite 120 years of existence, the Fiji Times still can't produce or employ any local publisher, comic strip series or independent columnist, or separate Sport Editorial Opinion is now an alarming question, considering the circumstances.
Such are questions that have been avoided, by the local media's coverage of the deportation of Foreign citizens. One of the most poignant questions asked among local journalists: Aren't Fiji citizens capable or qualified enough to be employed as the Fiji Times Publisher?
It is quite alarming that, Fiji Times had an alarming over reliance on Foreign citizens, employed as publishers, taking the job away from any local prospect. An outrageous policy that equates with, a distinct non-compliance of localization of vacant positions.
If there were rules for local content in published comic strips, most print publication in Fiji would be audited as a complete and abject failure.
Or was the omni-presence of Australian citizens employed in the local media agencies throughout the Pacific region, an extension of these reoccurring themes of embedded journalist/intelligence agent programs?
" The Forum had reached a decision to impose the suspension and a multitude of problems are anticipated, as the unintended consequences unfurl."
Publishers have great power that influence the headline, by line and general flow of information to the average person. These same publishers in the print media, have lobbied and directed the over-utilization of overseas content in Fiji that, overwhelms and stonewalls local creative production.
Opposing forces that counter act this Trans-Tasman lever, is the seemingly maverick interactions by Fiji with the Forum, an organization using an operating system that is heavily influenced and controlled by Australia and New Zealand.
Trans-Tasman babysitters complain up the pecking order, featuring the proverbial “buck stop”- US Government and report that Fiji is not playing by the rules and should be thrown out of the Club house they helped establish.
The hostile take over of the parameters of the Forum, was addressed by the Interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama alluding to the fact that the Forum had over-extended it's mandate by impinging on Fiji's expressed powers.
The Forum had reached a decision to impose the suspension and a multitude of problems are anticipated, as the unintended consequences unfurl. The most obvious is the decision to relocate the forum, if this May 1st 2009 deadline is not met. Considering the latest remarks from Suva, that the options of any back channel proposals deviating from the set out objective of the interim Government, would be anticipated as Dead On Arrival.
Packing and moving the whole enterprise of the Forum, currently located in Fiji's capital is as unprecedented and undoubtedly a most costly affair, in terms of diplomatic relations, time, money and logistical hiccups. All of which are commodities that are in agonizingly short supply.
Taking up the White Man's burden, Australia and New Zealand would have to foot the bill, which is anticipated to reach the high seven figures and the hardest part in consideration for both nations, is to explain this vast expenditure to their citizens, already feeling the squeeze in the global economic decline. Citizens and civil servants alike would wonder if that expense would even measure up to the professed ideals of fiscal integrity by the standing Government.
What becomes of the diplomatic relations between Fiji and the Trans-Tasman nations would would be a question that may be solved in a minimax outcome of geo-politics.