Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fiji Media and Ethical Deviations.

In a Fiji TV news segment, the Interim Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudary castigated certain media outlets including Fiji TV and Fiji Times for their gloom and doom perspectives, regarding current events in Fiji.

This criticism prompted an equally scathing response from the Fiji Times editorial, which was reinforced with a parodical stance.

This an excerpt:

Get real Mr Chaudhry

Monday, July 02, 2007

Interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry is back to his favourite pastime of blaming the media when things go wrong. He shoots the messenger when he is criticised in public or when his plans start to fall apart.

He dislikes admitting any weaknesses and failures, and points fingers at everyone else in particular the media but never himself for any shortcomings. But now Mr Chaudhry accuses this newspaper and another media organisation of biased and negative reporting, and says we are unhelpful to the economy and discouraging investment.

He alludes to the idea that the media somehow is contributing to the poor state of the economy and making it difficult efforts to turn it around. Its a novel idea, but frankly ridiculous.

The media did not remove the previous Government, the media are not keeping tourists away, the media are not putting various streams of aid funding at risk. Reporting on the state of the economy is reporting on an aspect of Fiji today that touches us all. By not reporting experts who tell us the economy is in trouble, we would not be telling the truth.

If Mr Chaudhry every now and then puts his ear to the ground, he will discover the reality of the situation faced by ordinary citizens, whose plight he frequently advocates he upholds.

It is not in the best interests of the people to try to tell us things are rosy and forward looking when they are not. Any responsible media will not want to mislead or deliberately lie to the people. We at all times try to present the truth. In the course of our duty to discover and disclose frequently, we know it will bring us into conflict with government at all levels because we know political interests are often served by secrecy or at least selective disclosures.

But it does not mean that we are to be blamed whenever things go wrong for the government. Our job is to highlight the shortcomings and failures, as well as the successes, if any.

The governments job is to fix those problems. So Mr Chaudhry should stop wasting his energy in shooting the messenger and try to convince his colleagues in the interim Cabinet to wake up and turn the economy around.

Start with tourism for example. It is perhaps also time Mr Chaudhry abandons the thinking that he is always right and everyone else, including this newspaper, is wrong.

This issue of Fiji Times bias, has been raised before by other independent analysts and other media publications. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) article, also illuminates the earlier observations of Fiji Times bias, post 1999 elections. Obviously there is no love lost between Fiji Times and Messr Chaudary.

FT Editorial defended Chaudary's recent accusations and stated that:
"Any responsible media will not want to mislead or deliberately lie to the people.
We at all times try to present the truth".

With all due respect to the Fiji Times, the readers will determine who presents the truth, not them. For history shows us that the Fiji Times has not disclosed other complaints on their very impartiality; by others,
apart from Chaudary and it is rather parochial to discount the valid points raised by them.

Micheal Field's article also covers this perceived bias in the Fiji Times.
This is an excerpt:


by Michael Field

AUCKLAND, Dec 17 (AFP) - A row has broken out in Fiji over claims the news media may have helped cause the coup which bought down the country's government in May.

As befits a small country, it quickly turned nasty, pitting David Robie, head of the University of the South Pacific's journalism programme, against the lively local media headed by the Rupert Murdoch owned Fiji Times.

On May 19 plotters led by George Speight seized Parliament and held the government hostage for 58 days and only freed them after the government had been deposed by the military.

Unlike the 1987 coups in Fiji, the media this time had no controls imposed on them and even had full access to Speight and Parliament the whole time he held hostages.

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, had held office for just a year, marked by bad media relations.

It climaxed in October 1999 when Chaudhry asked whether the Times was "carrying the torch for people engaged in seditious activities?

"The newspaper needs to take a serious look at where it is headed. Is it not fanning the fires of sedition and communalism by giving undue prominence to stories that are really non-stories?"

Robie, a journalist originally from New Zealand, in a just published academic paper, said some sectors of the Fiji media waged a bitter campaign against the administration and its rollback of privatisation.

Chaudhry got off on the wrong foot with the media industry virtually from the day he took office, Robie says, appointing his son private secretary in a move that damaged his credibility.

But the Fiji Times "appeared to wage a relentless campaign against the fledgling government, both through its editorials and 'slanted" news columns".

Political commentator Jone Dakuvula, a member of former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka's Soqosoqo Ni Vakavulewa Ni Taukei party is quoted saying the Times was "blatantly antagonistic to the Government and focused on highlighting allegations of corruption, nepotism and sexual indiscretions" against Chaudhry.

Robie says no journalist seriously analysed the party's manifesto in order to help public understanding of what the government had pledged to do.

"The evidence suggests that The Fiji Times, in particular, had a hostile editorial stance towards the Chaudhry Government.... The focus of news media coverage, particularly the Fiji Times, after the election was to play up conflict.... It tended to play to the agenda of politicians who wanted to inflame indigenous Fijians against the government."

Fiji Times publisher Alan Robinson says Robie's paper was academically and professionally dishonest. "Out of the 106 editorials we ran on the Coalition Government, 54 were in favour and 52 against," he said.

Of the coup itself, Robie said the media "offered Speight a profile and credibility - it aided the rebel leader's propaganda war. "The media, in fact, fuelled the crisis and gave Speight a false idea about his importance and support - it gave him 'political fuel'."

Radio FM96 boss and the head of the Pacific Islands News Association, William Parkinson, accused Robie of "self aggrandisement". Parkinson said the relationship pre-coup with Chaudhry had been an unfortunate one.

"But that was no fault of the media but the fault of the members of the Government who did such an abysmal job of getting their message across and then tried to bully and threaten the media when they held them accountable," Parkinson said.

FM96 news editor Vijay Narayan said he found Robie's paper offensive. "We found it was our duty, whoever was in government, to report on whatever promises were being made. George Speight was part of the story. We had to have someone there to find out what was going on."

Jale Moala, who was editor of the Daily Post at the time of the coup, noted the argument that the coup situation "may not have deteriorated as quickly as it did if the media had played a more responsible role."

It underlined the dilemma of Pacific journalism: "People and events are usually so closely interwoven and related, they can affect the reporting."

The following excerpt are from the Pacific Media Watch article commenting on the role of the media's role in the 2000 coup.


Times of India, 19 December 2000

SUVA: The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times newspaper came under fire over the weekend for allegedly waging a "bitter campaign" against ousted prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and the People's Coalition government after their election last year.

Journalism lecturer David Robie made the attack at a media conference in Mooloolaba, Australia. Robie, a New Zealander, circulated a paper titled "Coup Coup Land: The Press and the Putsch in Fiji," in which he questioned the professionalism of Fiji journalists and the news organizations the worked for.

He claimed some female journalists practiced skirt journalism to the point of being sexually involved with politicians in order to get information. The writings and editorial slant were frequently based on the journalist's race and personal political opinions, added Robie, the head of the USP's journalism school.

The Fiji Times, he said, raged a relentless campaign against the Chaudhry government not long after its election in 1999.

"In spite of its claims to the contrary, that it treated all governments of the day similarly, the newspaper was blatantly agonistic," Robie claimed, adding that the "newspaper's reporting was spearheaded by a journalist with close ties with opposition indigenous nationalists."

He also hit out at what he said was an unusually close relationship the media enjoyed with coup leader George Speight and the hostage takers in the early weeks of the May 19 coup, saying it raised serious ethical questions.

There were no immediate comments front he management of the Fiji Times. The 120-year old newspaper is the largest selling daily and most profitable media organization in Fiji. (India Abroad News Service)


Association of the University of the South Pacific Staff , 21 December 2000

Dear Vice-Chancellor

I am aware of the media campaign to discredit Mr David Robie and the Journalism Programme at USP. At the moment the Association of University of the South Pacific Staff is not concerned with the contents of Mr. David Robie's paper, but more on the campaign to curb academic freedom of a staff member who has presented a paper to a conference and has given his opinion and views on a number of issues relating to the role of media in the Fiji crisis.

The AUSPS believes that Mr Robie is being unneccessarily defamed and together with him some elements of the Fiji media are trying to discredit the journalism programme at USP.

AUSPS knows that the journalism programme is a popular programme and has attracted widespread acclaim under Mr. Robie's leadership. We believe that Mr. Robie is only doing his work as an academic and its becomes the university's responsibility to defend him and the programme from unnecessary comments from some elements of the media.

I am sure that you will defend Mr. Robie's right to speak as an academic and if the Fiji media disagrees with him then it should be debated publicly and David's paper should be given coverage by the media and not only their criticism of the paper.

The AUSPS will be closely following the developments and further comments from the Fiji media.

Thank you

Dr Biman Prasad
Association University of the South Pacific Staff
Fiji Islands


The Academic Staff Association at the University of the South Pacific has thrown its support behind the head of the university's journalism course, David Robie, whose latest clash with sections of the Fiji media has led to a call for his dismissal.

Sean Dorney reports that the Staff Association alleges that several news organisaitons in Fiji are waging an orchestrated campaign against Mr Robie.

In an academic paper delivered to a conference in Queensland earlier this month, David Robie criticised most of the regular Fiji media contrasting their coverage of the coup unfavourably with the work of his students claiming that one major strength of his journalism training website was what he called its incisive analysis.

His attack on the Fiji Times for its alleged slanted news and bias against the Chaudhry Government prompted the Fiji Times to write to the Vice Chancellor accusing Robie of self-promotion and academic dishonesty.

The Staff Association's spokesman, Professor Scott MacWilliam, says the issue is one of academic freedom. He says that at a meeting on campus, the Vice Chancellor, Esekia Solofa, has supported that principle and defended Mr Robie's competence and integrity. Prof MacWilliam says Mr Robie is entitled to express his views of the role of the media and the association rejects any call for his sacking.

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  1. Anonymous1:23 AM

    It would be useful for this debate to refer to the actual original referenced article that provided the critique of the Fiji media (in Asia Pacific Media Educator):
    Coup coup land: The press and the putsch in Fiji

  2. Once again, media colleagues are left with a he-said versus he-said account of issues inside the industry.

    What can be said is that William Parkinson appears to have once again resorted to personal denegration to answer criticisms from an academic.

    Attacking a review from David Robie as professionally and academically "dishonest" according to Pacific correspondent Mike Field, the report goes on to quote the top Fiji media boss as accusing Robie of "self-aggrandisement."

    No further reference is made to either allegation in the Field report, one of his last for Agence France Presse in December last year.

    No doubt limited by agency story lengths, the Field piece does adhere to generally accepted practice among journalists of "let-the-reader-decide" quotes from various sources.

    What can also be said is that we have the benefit of extended commentary on wide ranging and amply sourced concerns, as might properly be raised by an academic in any country - but no similar depth from those put under the media spotlight.

    Maybe Parkinson et al are just too busy but they really should try shooting the message, not the messenger.

  3. Couldn't agree more Avaiki Nius. Cheers!