Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Blacklisted NZ Journalists: When Fiji stands firm

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field are two New Zealand journalists still blacklisted (banned) from Fiji. When NZ Prime Minister, John Key visited Fiji in June 2016, he did raise issues with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to relax the ban. However, the banned journalists appeared arrogant and felt that Fiji owed an obligation to allow them in. Bainimarama effectively said, “…get stuffed…” (Pun intended, as one banned journalist used to work for a media called Stuff!)

It appears that some Fijian journalists, former journalist and media educators in Fiji tend to believe that sun rises from backsides of some Kiwi (read Anglo Saxon) journalists, and goes back to set there in the afternoon. For somebody who has studied journalism in NZ, and has been a media commentator and blogger here in Auckland, I can vouch that some media and journalists here cannot stand as exemplary beacon for Fiji or Fijians to emulate. Some are far from perfect, others are blatantly biased against certain political parties, and the remainder abuse their positions in media to shame any media student. Some appear to be lapdogs of certain influential advertisers. Therefore, Third World journalists in Fiji have to wake up to this fact and stop adoring those who are unworthy of this gesture.

Some people whining and whinging in Fiji need to shed off the shackles of colonialism, and accept that anything foreign or White need not be superior. It is better to be standing tall, than being a bootlicker or a servile journalist. FIJI PUNDIT is one such…Read on…

Barbara Dreaver
Michael Field
Prime Minister John Key’s visit to Fiji (9-10 June), marked a significant gain in the restoration of relations between New Zealand and Fiji. This was despite NZ mainstream media ignoring, appreciating and failing to report this. In 2006, during the reign of Helen Clark, Fiji suffered ‘smart’ sanctions, following the Bainimarama-initiated coup on December 5, 2006 that removed the Qarase Government. Ironically, she now needs Prime Minister Bainimarama’s support too in her quest to clinch the prestigious position of Secretary-General of the United Nations. What more, Fiji’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson is now the President of the United Nations and would decide on her fate! Following New Zealand and Australia’s rigid stand, Bainimarama said that he would not return to the Pacific Islands Forum until the influence of New Zealand and Australia on the forum were reduced. In his recent visit, Mr Key urged Mr Bainimarama to re-join the Pacific Islands Forum but did not get any commitment from him.

On ban imposed by Fiji on some foreign journalists, such as Barbara Dreaver of TVNZ and Michael Field, formerly of Fairfax, Mr Key said he had tried without success to get Mr Bainimarama to lift the bans. Mr Bainimarama retained his vigorous opposition to the banned journalists saying, the journalists’ reporting was misleading and mischievous and was not amenable to Mr Key’s call on media freedom in Fiji.  He said, "Certain journalists in New Zealand and Australia and certain journalists in Fiji think nothing of dispensing with the facts if they get in the way of the politically-motivated narrative they want to tell. We are saying to the news organisations that employ them, send someone else." He clarified that no one who reported on events in Fiji fairly and in a balanced manner was excluded and they were free to criticize the government or him in an opinion piece or report criticism by others in their news stories. 

John Key meeting Frank Bainimarama: Anybody reporting in a balanced manner was not banned from Fiji.
Indeed, hopes of Barbara Dreaver of TVNZ and Michael Field, on the lifting of the ban against them has been dashed, as Bainimarama spoke with same vigour and verve, leaving no doubt in John Key’s mind on the futility of seeking reprieve for them. Bainimarama accused Barbara Dreaver for posting footage of tanks in the streets of Suva when Fiji had no tanks in its armoury. She denied the accusation and claimed that TVNZ had no such footage. However, her footage showing schoolchildren pulling grass with their hands, as they did not have fuel for the motor mowers smacks of notoriety. In Fiji, the backup support for such eventuality is knives (machete), which is commonly used and pulling grass by hand is both unacceptable and impractical for clearing school grounds. Besides, the size of grass, which children were pulling, was not of a height that required desperate and unconventional measures. In addition to this, according to the TVNZ footage, the children seemed to move away, indicating that it was possibly a set up to ventilate her views on the Fijian economy. 

Michael Field also tried to defend himself but showed his obvious unsavoury reputation. He wrote, “Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum, who really run the show, are a kind of unelected politburo. Only last week they had opposition politician Tupou Draunidalo kicked out of Parliament until 2018 when she correctly called Education Minister Mahendra Reddy an idiot.”  Fiji has a democratically elected Parliament with Bainimarama’s approval rating consistently 60 percent or above since his election, which also credibly reflected on his Government. Field endorses Draunidalo’s comment, stressing that she ‘correctly’ called Reddy an idiot but ignored her comment, accusing Reddy for saying ‘dumb natives’, in a bid to stir racial feelings, when he did not utter such words. To claim that Sayed-Khaiyum running the show is an insult to the Fijian parliament and people of Fiji and Michel Field has proven that he thoroughly deserves the ban to remain. When journalists become judgemental and blatantly opinionated, they deserve to suffer the consequences. 

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa who was riled by Dreaver's report on Samoa  being " awash with guns and drugs"
By such actions, journalists of the ilk of Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field invite retaliatory measures against them and when it happens, they navigate for public opinion to rescue them.  Indeed, for Michael Field, banned from Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati and Nauru, proved his culpability in being biased, insensitive and too opinionated for his own good. On Barbara Dreaver, a Fiji Sun source (June 12) claimed that following complaint to New Zealand’s Broadcasting Authority against her by Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, claiming Samoa was “awash with guns and drugs”, the TVNZ was reportedly ordered to pay NZ$5,000 to the Samoan Government. Mr Tuilaepa reportedly later claimed that the ruling was a “victory for responsible and substantive reporting”

Interestingly, these two claim the high ground of media freedom and their right to impose themselves, as they deem fit, on island nations but disappear in the thin air when dealing with China, Iran or Saudi Arabia when leaders of these nations come to New Zealand. They do not whinge, as they do against Fiji now ruled by a leader who has the guts to stand up to people like Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field.  Media freedom is a right that impinges on the practitioners in the field of journalism to dispense their obligations responsibly and not recklessly, as Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field do.

Further, Barbara Dreaver’s defence against Fiji’s stance through the TVNZ on 10 June clearly demonstrated her resentment, arrogance and self-righteousness, which one hopes does not extend her sentence by the Fijian authorities. She obviously has to learn the art of diplomacy in dealing with national leaders and nations, hiding her hostility and contempt, easily captured through her body language, voice modulation, including facial expressions. Obviously, she would not dare do that to the Chinese Government on the state TV, risking her job at the command of the authorities from the Beehive! 

Indeed, such journalists are the cause for media controls being implemented in many countries and when it happens, they cry foul. Fiji is not a perfect democracy but an evolving one that is substantially better in concept and practice than past governments, anchored to the 1970, 1990 and 1997 Constitutions. 

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the principal of blog FIJI PUNDIT and Indian Media Watch - New Zealand. He is a qualified journalist, a postgraduate scholar from Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) with honours and a former media personality from Fiji. He is a media commentator, specialising in social media, covering Fiji and local news, generally bypassed by the mainstream and side stream media.]

Sunday, July 17, 2016

When a character from ‘Airlift” visits Shri Ram Mandir: His Excellency Sanjiv Kohli

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the Indian dhol sounded out, and the conch shell or shank, was blown by Pundit Jagdish Maharaj, His Excellency, the protagonist of Airlift, Sanjeev Kohli was escorted into Shri Ram Mandir in Henderson, Auckland on the evening of 16 July, 2016. His entry was preceded by flagbearers carrying three flags of the countries touching all of us: New Zealand, India and Fiji. 

A person of such a short stature, such a humble-looking servant of people, how could he have caused miracles in Kuwait during Desert Storm (Iraqi wars)? One could but be proud of the very pivotal role he played in rescue and evacuation of over 150,000 Indians from Kuwait during Saddam’s invasion in 1990. [I overnight saw the movie “Airlift” in preparation to write this article.]

The reel and real Sanjeev Kohli. Left, Actor Kumud Mishra who plays Sanjeev Kohli in Airlift. Centre, the real Sanjeev Kohli, the then Joint Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)  who visited Ram Mandir. He is now Indian High Commisioner to New Zealand. Left, poster of Airlift"
When Akshay Kumar’s ‘Airlift” was released, questions were raised about authenticity or truthfulness of the events and the story. One of the main characters, Sanjeev Kohli (played in the film by actor Kumud Mishra), has spoken out. The truth is that real Sanjeev Kohli exists, and that differs from the reel (movie) Kohli, who is portrayed as a helpless Joint Secretary in Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The real Kohli dispels a lot of theories about the lack-lustre performance of the Ministry, “We had orders from Delhi not to leave till the last Indian had left, and we did it despite limited resources,” he reportedly told NewsMobile in an exclusive interview.

Sanjeev Kohli, now Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand, is an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1988 batch. He is known in the ministry as a quiet performer who has served in Kuwait, Moscow and Qatar and served as a Joint Secretary in MEA headquarters in Delhi. He was a young third Secretary in the Indian mission in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on 2nd August 1990. “It was a traumatic time we were completely stuck without any communication link, it was about ten day later that we set up a communication link with great difficulty, but we never fled the country,” Kohli told media. In the movie, the Indian diplomats desert the mission with a lone staffer telling Akshay Kumar that all diplomats had left. It is reported that the movie Airlift is a tremendous effort by Akshay Kumar and does score on creativity. However it appears to have failed in research, missing out on important factual points which would have helped the movie.

Sanjeev Kohli facilitated and coordinated with various agencies to arrange almost 500 flights to evacuate over 150,000 Indians stranded due to Iraqi war- Desert Storm in 1990. The real story is that people were not abandoned. Indian government cares for its stranded people.
And despite its shortcomings, Airlift did show Sanjeev Kohli as a righteousness and loyal civil servant who played a key role in ensuring Indians were safely transported to India.

Therefore it was a historical moment when Shri Ram Mandir, on that cold wintery evening, warmly welcomed a distinguished guest, very deserving of the honour. Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Sunil Sharma very ably controlled the evening event which was a joint effort of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA), Waitakere Hindi School and the hosts, Shri Ram Mandir. Naveen Prakash the president of WIA, explained the role of Indian Association which has become a leading light for Indian Diaspora in West Auckland. Despite its volunteering efforts and being the genesis of celebration of various Indian festivals, the organisation was dependent on funding, and hinted on Indian High Commission coming to its rescue, in promotion of Indian culture. 

The grand entry: with dhol, preceded by three flags, new Zealand, India and Fiji. His Excellency, Sanjeev Kohli is escorted by Naveen Prakash, President of Waitakere Indian Association.
Outlining the history of Hindi School, students of the school informed that Hindi School was an off-spring of WIA which is now an autonomous body, which has been responsible for guiding language and culture in our young generation. The youth wing of Shri Ram Mandir, consisting of ladies, Pooja Kumar and Sagrika Kumar explained the history of the temple which has brought the community of Henderson together and has now matured into a community centre from being a devotional centre.

But the evening was reserved for the real hero of Airlift, His Excellence, Sanjeev Kohli. I wished to request him to email me his speech. But how do you request a speech from somebody who could speak very eloquently for some ten minutes in English, without any notes or written speech! It was all impromptu and it spoke volumes of the calibre of an accomplished and yet humble international Indian diplomat.

"A family which prays together lives together and are strongest together. " Sanjeev Kohli giving his address at Shri Ram mandir. He said, of all his trips to Auckland, the visit to Mandir was most fulfilling as it brought the nostalgia of his sweet childhood experience of visiting Mandir with his family. He told the devotees that temples also play a crucial social role in building bonds and community networking.
“ It is more than a delight to be present here-I feel blessed to be present in this magnificent temple…..As far as my tenure here is concerned I have been here for some four and a half months and had visited Auckland four - five times, mostly for business purpose. But this has been the most satisfying visit, “Kohli Ji told the devotees in the temple.

He had a nostalgic feeling of his “sweet memories of childhood which became alive again “by coming to the temple. He fondly remembered his younger days and childhood where he visited temples with his family and prayed together with his parents and siblings. He was pleased to see similar interaction, with various generations of people, young, teenagers, kids, babies and the elderly.

“It is a kind of feeling we need to develop in our younger people. A family which prays together lives together, and is always strongest together,” he said.

Group Photo: from left, Pravin Kumar- Managing Trustee - Shri Ram Mandir, Sunny Kaushal, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi- National List MP, Councillor Linda Cooper- Auckland Council, Baljit Kaur- Executive- Waitakere Indian Association, Constable Mandeep Kaur- Ethnic Communities Relations Officer, His Excellency- Sanjeev Kohli, Ami Chand - Whau Local Board, Sunny Kaushal - NZ Labour Party and Naveen Prakash- President of Waitakere Indian Association.
Kohli praised the efforts of the Hindi school performers and especially the girls. “As a father of two girls, I feel proud to see the girls taking the lead over boys” He praised the Hindi school initiative. “A nation which does not take pride in its language does not go far”. On funding, he committed their assistance and would be prepared to help wherever possible. He was so impresses with the temple that he (jokingly) wishes to make it into a training centre…” I think we should also bring some Trustees from India who run temples to come and see and learn the way you do things here. The way you have maintained this place, I need to salute the vision and commitment of Pravin Ji (referring to Pravin Kumar, Managing Trustee of Ram Mandir) and his team, “he said.

Elaborating on the wider roles of place of worship, he advised devotees to have a paradigm shift. “Temples are not only a place where you get your devotional and spiritual fulfilment, they also serve a very important social cause. I think they bind communities together, and also in terms of building bonds within the community. We perform marriages in temple, we perform other events in temples. And whenever you have a problem, you go to temple and seek divine blessings. You also interact with your friends here. This is especially important if you are away from your country,” He praised the Indian Diaspora for their achievements and especially named Kanwaljit Bakshi, who was present, and praised him for noteworthy service to the community.

He touched on the issue of problems people faced with the past High Commissioners and many grievances people had. “We like feedback on the services we provide. I would like to assure you that someone who cannot have his problem addressed in the normal way, is most welcome to send me a direct e-mail, or message, I personally go through each mail and message, and it will be an honour to serve you, “he assured.

Acharya Dinesh Prasad Semwal,(right) a priest at Ram Mandir, presenting Holy Book to His Excellency, Sanjeev Kohli (left). In the centre, looking on, is Pravin Kumar, Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust.
Indeed, a person of such a small stature, lifted up the morale of all of us at Shri Ram Mandir.
He did it the same way as depicted in ‘Airlift.” With about 500 flights, he intervened, coordinated and facilitated evacuation of over 150,000 Indians stranded in Kuwait in Iraqi war of Desert Storm.

For a change, New Zealand has been honoured with the calibre of an Indian High Commissioner we can all be proud of. And Shri Ram Mandir was honoured to host such a humble servant of the people.

Your Excellency, Sanjeev Kohli Sir, we salute you. You make all People of Indian Origin proud. Jai Hind.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a Kiwi Fijian (Indo-Fijian) and the principal of blog FIJI PUNDIT. He is a qualified journalist and media commentator.]

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Auckland Transport: A tail wagging the dog

Thakur Ranjit Singh

A Frankenstein monster is what you create but cannot control. This aptly applies to creation of Super City in Auckland. This monster, among others, is Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) which ironically are uncontrollable and not answerable to the elected officials. These unelected bureaucrats wield immense power, which creates the situation of a tail wagging the dog. One notorious omnipotent Frankenstein Monster is Auckland Transport, not answerable to anybody. This article shows how this overrides our elected officials. And if a Brexit type referendum were held here, we would have “Auexit”, where Aucklanders would opt to be freed from the monster of a mismanaged Super City, and unbridled powers of its uncontrollable CCOs. Here is an insight into what you would not read in a mainstream newspaper in New Zealand. 

The lament of an ethnic journalist in a White country is same as a peacock dancing in the forest. Never mind how charmingly, elegantly and gracefully the peacock will dance, hardly anybody notices. I had given this article to NZ Herald some two weeks ago for publication. It appears they decided not to publish it. Hence this peacock will once again dance in the jungle, FIJI PUNDIT. And this ethnic person is talking about a White Institution this time.
AT stands for Auckland Transport, which has embarked on a multi-million dollar rebranding project that would colour our buses in one colour, and further confuse passengers which bus goes where. The colour -coded bused  associated with serving each section of the city like Manukau, Waitakere and North Shore would have been more effective, easily identifiable and customer-friendly. But AT does not have to listen to anybody.
Yes, I am talking about the Frankenstein monster that Rodney Hide has created: AUCKLAND - THE SUPERCITY and its children. Today I will speak about one child from the group of siblings called Council Controlled Organisation (CCO). The irony is that this beast, called Council Controlled Organisation in reality, nobody can control – not even its father, Auckland Council. Today I will talk about a naughty and ill-disciplined child called Auckland Transport (AT). It has been causing havoc in Auckland with its grey and blue tinted glasses. Auckland Council and the mainstream media ignored the plea of this ethnic blogger some three years ago, and hence failed to see that peacock dance, as it did that in the forest, in blog, FIJI PUNDIT.

This was about the  2013 scrapping of history in Henderson to remove Christmas Parade because the Johnnie – come – late, AT objected about some transport issues we were unaware of for over 11 years.

As the linked article by the same author shows, AT's past officious and unbending attitude resulted in scrapping of 11-year Santa Parade in Henderson.
Vanessa Neeson (present and past) Chair of Massey Henderson Local Board attributed this shift in history to the officiousness of this new monster that seemed to be answerable to nobody. For 11 years Henderson, under Waitakere City Council had Santa Parade with little or no objections. But this new monster, sitting in the former Waitakere Council building, raises concerns which are officious at the best, and conceited, nonsensical and irrational at the worst.

In 2013, before the last Auckland Council elections, Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) held an election forum. Yours truly as Chair of the Forum raised this issue with potential mayors. John Minto, John Palino, Reuben Shadbolt, Uesifili Unasa and Penny Bright (minus Len Brown) were there and the unbridled powers of the unelected, and at times, unaccountable CCOs were seen as a matter of concern. Penny Bright was the most ardent critic of CCOs: “I believe that big corrupt corporates control Auckland through Council Controlled Organisations “(CCOs) where unelected businesspeople run the Auckland region like a business, by business, for business. CCOs must go,” she told the forum.

The way AT 'controls Auckland Council brings to reality this satirical depiction of a tail wagging the dog.

My blog KIWI PUNDIT raised concerns that were not heeded.  Here an arm was concerned about disruption of bus services to a few hundred people for two hours in a small suburb of West Auckland. On the other hand the Auckland Mayor and Auckland Council,  have no trouble in shutting off Queen Street to allow topless women to have ‘Boobs on bike’ or some parade that far under weigh the fun and pleasure of so many children in Waitakere. The Council needs to have its priorities right, have some control over its unelected CCOs and not allow the over-paid bosses in ivory towers to displace our elected representatives and Local Boards. 

Now, three years on, NZ Herald, in its editorial on 24 June, 2016 seems to have woken up to this concerns and has raised issues about multi-million dollar branding by painting the buses in same colour. Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes, in a NZ Herald statement said that the move was "insane" and a "waste of money", and there were lot more transport issues that should take priority instead of painting the buses. Ms Holmes branded Auckland Transport priorities as muddled and rightfully said Auckland needed more reliable service, not more expensive council branding. It is estimated this is going to cost millions.

AT has embarked on removing 75-year old history of Birkenhead  orange and cream buses with that boring greyish blue painting. The board's decision to paint the buses is a classic illustration of how misguided corporate thinking can be when the body is using public funds
North Shore residents are also concerned that the fleet of 75 Birkenhead orange and cream buses, which was part of the neighbourhood's identity was being lost in the Super City through this greyish blue painting.

NZ Herald questioned this use (read abuse) of public funds: “The board's decision to paint the buses is a classic illustration of how misguided corporate thinking can be when the body is using public funds.” The editorial also questioned the ability and talent of Auckland Transport for imposing such unpopular decisions without any solid customer research. Auckland Transport was accused of promoting itself by flexing its muscles, the action that cannot be questioned. It concluded:

Corporate hubris in the public sector can always pass on its costs, and since these bodies are protected from political interference they cannot be punished by voters either. AT looks determined to make us grey and blue.”

Indeed if Auckland Council had taken any notice of that peacock, KIWI PUNDIT, dancing in the forests some three years ago, when Henderson Christmas Parade was unceremoniously scrapped, perhaps Auckland Transport today may have been more controllable, answerable, accountable and dependable.

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is an Auckland-based ethnic (read Indo-Fijian) journalist running his blogs, FIJI PUNDIT. He is a former Board Member of Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) and is a media commentator.]