Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Croz admits he's also on the gravy train

The spinmeisters at Qorvis Communications are likely holding their heads in their hands and moaning today. It must be so frustrating when your would-be foot soldiers break the first rule of propaganda. Maybe they think that transparency will purify them and make their blog postings more believable. Instead it will probably have the opposite effect and make them much more easy to dismiss. C'mon guys! It's like the First Rule of Fight Club. YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB!!!

First it was blowhard blogger Grubby Davis who outed himself in September as a consultant to Qorvis, the U.S. public relations firm with the dodgy record that specialises in whitewashing authoritarian regimes worldwide. Grubby now enjoys weekly excursions to Suva from his home in Australia, no doubt flying first class and staying at the Holiday Inn, for consultations with Qorvis and MINFO. All of which would of course be ultimately paid for by Fiji taxpayers, however indirectly. [NOTE: The previous sentence was amended at the request of both Graham Davis and the Fiji government. The original version may have suggested that the Fiji government directly pays the expenses of Mr. Davis to fly to Suva weekly. FMW regrets any incorrect inference, Ed.]

Now it's retired USP professor Crosbie Walsh, who blogs from New Zealand at Fiji: The Way it Is, Was and Can Be. Croz admitted yesterday that he took a free trip to Suva recently at Fiji government expense so he could take the pulse of the nation in the midst of consultations on a new (maybe) constitution.
The Ministry of Information paid my travel costs, five days accommodation at Holiday Inn, they provided a vehicle to take me around, and gave me the temporary use of a tape recorder and a “dongle” to avoid the hotel's high charge for internet access. Vinaka, Sharon, Sharleen, Don and the three drivers, especially Freddie.
The founding head of Development Studies at USP promises a series of blog posts resulting from this visit, during which he interviewed all and sundry about the progress being made on the road to democracy in Fiji.
I talked with the PM for a long 40 minutes, the Attorney-General and two Cabinet ministers, four permanent secretaries, Prof Yash Ghai and two other members of the Constitution Commission, and people from business, Qorvis, the NZ High Commission, the universities, the trade unions, the military, two NGOs involved in constitution education, the media (Fiji Times and Fiji Sun), the judiciary, the religious community, and one chief, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.
Well, almost all and sundry. "I did not attempt to meet any of the leaders of the old political parties," he admitted, "because their views are already well known and I thought I'd gain nothing from interviewing them." This is where the problems begin with him accepting what's called a "junket" in the journalism world. For whatever reason, Croz apparently did not even attempt to get the opposing view to those of his benefactors in government, which are also doubtless well known to him. And to believe that his reports would be untainted by his hosts' largesse really stretches credulity.

Now, there are different opinions out there about Old Croz. Pacific Scoop has a page devoted to him that is practically a shrine. Fiji Democracy Now, not so much. It has hung him with an unflattering nickname and archives his greatest hits under More biased opinions from Crosbie Walsh. To be fair, Croz does not always come down on the side of Fiji's interim government. He criticized the Essential Industries Decree, which has endangered Fiji's duty free status in the U.S., from its introduction a year ago. He repeated just last month his opinion that the decree "undermined national trade unions [and] exposed workers to the whims of employers."

He also, to his credit, urged the lifting of censorship more than a year ago while martial law was still being imposed under the Public Emergency Regulation. "If genuine dialogue is to take place on the constitutional and electoral reforms," wrote Croz last June, "media censorship will have to be lifted." In fact, he urged the government to lift the PER completely, which it finally did six months later. That wasn't based on it being the right thing to do, however, but instead on the political capital the government would gain as a result. "These measures – and particularly the lifting of media restrictions – would win them immeasurable support and confound their opponents."

There is no doubt that Croz wields considerable influence on foreign opinion concerning Fiji, and perhaps on domestic opinion as well. No wonder MINFO was eager to bring him up here and show him around. As long as he didn't talk to the opposition, of course. Those who consider his opinions should now take into account whether he is independent or biased. Croz claims in his blog aims that his blog is balanced.
This blog is unusual in aiming to present a balanced and helpful presentation of events in Fiji as they relate to the post-2006 military coup or takeover, and ideas on how Fiji may move forward to the election of a truly representative government serving all the people of Fiji.
Sorry, Croz. That just doesn't fit with what you've done. As any first-year journalism student knows (mine certainly do), you will not have any credibility if you do not maintain independence from those you write about. From now on it will be hard not to believe that you, like Graham Davis, are  beholden to the Fiji government.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who/what is Qorvis Communications?

Fiji's endangered duty free status in the U.S. has apparently upped the stakes in the interim government's high-priced PR campaign, with Courfourpointfive reporting that the monthly stipend paid to Washington-based spin doctors Qorvis Communications for services rendered has soared from US$40,000 to US$150,000 per month. It might thus be appropriate to look at the kinds of services Qorvis renders. The more I learn about these rascals, the more I suspect that I've been a victim of their black ops.

Human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen chronicled for the Huffington Post last year the types of activities Qorvis engages in on behalf of governments in the Middle East. Much of it involves social media such as Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. According to Halvorssen, Qorvis uses phony social media accounts to conduct smear campaigns against critics of repressive regimes. "Most of the U.S.-based fake tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out from inside Qorvis Communication's 'Geo-Political Solutions' division," noted Halvorssen. "The effort is mechanical and centrally organized."
More so than intimidation, violence, and disappearances, the most important tool for dictatorships across the world is the discrediting of critics. . . . Oppressive governments are threatened by public exposure, and this means that it's not just human rights defenders but also bloggers, opinion journalists, and civil society activists who are regularly and viciously maligned
The American Independent detailed some of Qorvis' efforts in promoting Fiji, noting that it is "deeply involved in managing the online and social media activities" of the government. Its cyberpromotion includes websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds, according to disclosures required to be made by Qorvis under the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). 
“WHOIS” lookups of domain name registration information reveal that “ecofiji.org,” “empowerfiji.org,” “travelfijitoday.org,” “investfiji.org,” and “fijigrowth.org” were registered by Qorvis employees, although the sites offer no disclosure of Qorvis’ involvement. The FARA filing also listed three Twitter accounts — @FijiPM, @FijiAG and @FijiRepublic — under “activities conducted by registrant.”
The latest targets of such social media messages have been in the U.S. as a result of recent hearings held to decide on revoking Fiji's free trade status after protests by trade union groups. Fiji’s Qorvis-linked Twitter accounts, according to the American Independent, have "played an active role in promoting pro-government news articles, often published by the government owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation."
The tweets, like many of those issued by accounts linked to Qorvis, frequently target their messages to Twitter accounts affiliated with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, both institutions which have been critical of Fiji’s military coup government. . . . Qorvis’ management of such accounts, without disclosing their involvement on the Twitter accounts or websites, would fit with the consultancy’s history of being less than transparent in the work done on behalf of foreign clients.
The FARA disclosure shows that Qorvis has provided "fact sheets" to various parties, including Australian blogger Grubby Davis. It has also been successful in getting pro-Fiji news stories published by the overseas press. It arranged a visit to Fiji by reporter Ginanne Brownell of fDi Magazine,  which is owned by The Financial Times Ltd and edited in London. That resulted in such stories as "Promise of democracy opens up investment opportunities in Fiji," and "Fiji PM looks to forge a central role within south Pacific."

Project PM, which describes itself as “an autonomous online entity” that uses the internet to promote positive change, keeps close tabs on black ops spin doctors such as Qorvis. Its cyber sleuthing has found that Qorvis regularly edits Wikipedia pages to make its clients look better. "QORVIS has its own long history of edits at the site," notes Project PM. "There is a lengthy page of Wikipedia edits for an unnamed user with the IP"
The IP [address] belongs to gw20.qorvisnet.com. User was not alone. Another 3 named accounts made their way around the same pages all of which appear to have a connection to QORVIS as clients or staff. As this appears to have a degree of co-ordination behind it, it backs up accounts of online manipulation or 'black arts' from the Geo-Political Solutions division of QORVIS. 
One of the Wikipedia pages that Qorvis has doctored, according to Project PM, is that of Fiji's Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, which its editing history shows to have been altered by a particularly busy person who goes by the handle of "Ratfinx."