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.]

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