Friday, March 29, 2013

Here's how low Croz has sunk

There's a fine line sometimes between misinformation and disinformation, but the basic rule of thumb is that while the former could be mistaken, the latter is something you know to be false. It's the difference between making a mistake of fact and deliberately spreading a lie. "For this reason," according to the great arbiter of truth, Wikipedia, disinformation "is synonymous with and sometimes called black propaganda. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince someone of untruth."
Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole.
Which makes Crosbie Walsh of New Zealand a purveyor of black propaganda. The retired political science professor, who played a major role in the propaganda campaign that ran me out of Fiji last year, knew or ought to have known that information he posted on his blog today is false. Yet he posted it anyway, and judging by the last line of the post, it is obviously designed to influence his country's foreign policy toward Fiji. Some may be fooled, but I wish to cry foul. There are several problems with the blog post. First, he didn't write it, and he does not identify the author. Second, it was written two months ago and much muddy water has gurgled beneath the bridge since then. It is one of the worst pieces of media criticism I have ever read, but I was too tied up fighting other battles to get around to deconstructing it two months ago.

The blog post was authored on 30 January by Cameron "Whaleoil" Slater, a Kiwi blogger. It was enthusiastically reprinted by the regime cheerleader Fiji Sun the next day. For some reason, old Croz waited two months to reprise it. Perhaps he felt it might improve with time. Instead, time has had the opposite effect on it. Slater took Fairfax NZ reporter Michael Field, one of the top journalists covering the Pacific, to task for a couple of his stories on the regime's increasingly bizarre antics in January. The first mentioned what Slater called the "alleged" burning of copies of the Ghai draft constitution by Fiji Police, while the second was a scoop of some proportions about the ordered deportation of "troublesome" priest Father Kevin Barr. Slater didn't seem to see how Field could report accurately from Auckland on anything going on in Fiji.
Michael Field is banned from traveling to Fiji. It is likely that he sourced both of his stories from the anti-government blog Coup 4.5, who are almost all exclusively Auckland based. What is particularly galling is that the major media and gullible bloggers simply repeat what Michael Field and the anonymous bloggers at Coup 4.5 have to say. They invariably do not read more widely and find out the exact details of what precisely happened and when in Fiji.
This ignores the fact that Field's story actually quoted Father Barr from a telephone interview he managed to score with the harried priest in Suva, which was a bit of a journalistic coup (no pun intended) because of the sketchy information available at the time. "Our worst fears have eventuated," Father Barr told Field. "I am in an awkward position." So it is obviously not true that Field sourced his story through Coup 4.5. His source was instead the most solid possible the subject of the story. Field may have first seen the story reported on Coup 4.5, but a good reporter would not rely on any blog as the source for a story. Instead he did what a good reporter should do. He tracked down the subject of the story and confirmed it with him first-hand. Field might be persona non grata in Fiji because of his critical reporting on the regime, but that doesn't mean he isn't able to get a story and get it right. But instead of a solid piece of journalism, according to Slater, this was “a manufactured story” by Field. And how did he know this? Because an anonymous source in the regime told him so.
The story concerned me and so I made a few calls. What I found out about the situation is in stark contrast with what was reported by Michael Field. My government contacts refused to comment on the record and their off the record comments were that this was a storm in a tea cup unhelpfully stirred up by journalists with agendas.
Of course, the deportation order against Father Barr was later rescinded, which raises the question of why Croz would reprint a piece of media criticism that is both so old and so lame. But wait, it gets better. . . er, worse. The other bee in Whale Boy’s bonnet was Field’s story on the regime’s repudiation of the Ghai Commission's draft constitution three weeks earlier, in which he mentioned that “after it was presented last month, police seized copies of it and burnt printer's proofs.” This is apparently exactly what happened, according to Ghai’s exclusive interview with Bruce Hill of Radio Australia, which cleared up much confusion about just what went up in flames, if anything. There were even photographs to illustrate the incineration, but according to Slater this was still an "alleged" burning. Apparently the offered documentation was insufficient for Whale Blubber, or whatever his handle is. You’ll never guess whose version he preferred.
With regards to the alleged burning of the new constitution you can’t really go past getting the true story from Graham Davis. . . . Compare and contrast the reporting from Michael Field and wonder how he manages to keep his job.
The words "true story" seem somehow out of place in a sentence that mentions Grubby Blogger. The fact that Slater would link to the hit job Davis did on Ghai, which was also based on one anonymous source, leads to the inevitable conclusion that they share the same Bizarro World definition of quality journalism. Of course, it was also reprinted the next day by the Fiji Sun, but we are not surprised that it would join in this brand of gutter attack. Whalegrease, whose subsequent bloggings on Fiji are as ill-informed and pro-regime as the one reprinted today, leaves little doubt that he is as deep in the junta’s pocket as Grubby and Croz.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Economist deconstructs Frank's power play

Fiji's dictator might be able to keep the country's media from asking pesky questions about his recent manipulation of the constitutional process (such as, WTF?), but the international press is not so easily cowed. The esteemed UK magazine The Economist has weighed in on Frank's machinations and predicts that the country's "strongman" has already overplayed his hand.

Under the headline "Opportunity blown," The Economist predicts that Bainimarama has lost any hope of even claiming legitimacy for the process. The respected publication quips that "soldiers tend to be poor at handling their nation’s affairs, and so it has proved in the Pacific island state of Fiji." Frank's mistake was in ditching the opportunity for discussion of the draft constitution -- his draft, not the one proposed late last year by the Ghai Commission -- by his hand-picked Constituent Assembly. By not allowing even this measly level of public participation in the process, he cannot hold it up to international scrutiny without people holding their noses. After all, allowing the draft to go to the CA would have "empowered a popular body to deliberate on the affairs of the nation," notes The Economist. In Frank's Fiji this is simply not allowed. Fortunately, such strong-arm tactics do not come without peril, and Bainimarma, according to this analysis, has already bungled it.
By firmly reasserting his control, Mr Bainimarama may perhaps have avoided the risk of troublesome upstarts seizing control over the transition. But he has also blown his chance to preside over the creation of a new political order that is durable and legitimate.
The constitutional consultation process, according to The Economist, was such a success in attracting more than 7,000 submissions that even the RFMF emerged from it stoked about the country's potential under a democracy. The Yash Ghai-led Fiji Constitutional Commission accepted the regime's “non-negotiable” provisions, then demonstrated its independence by pointing out that many of the interim government's decrees, which limited rights the FCC planned to enshrine, would have to be ditched. For one brief, shining moment, Fiji had a chance.
Such was the euphoria around the process that the armed forces, in their own submission, said that the FCC had triggered “a sense of belonging culminating in a national pride” and a “togetherness which we must continue to foster”.
Under the expert-led constitutional consultations, observed The Economist, troubled Fiji "seemed to be enjoying a political renaissance." Then Frank went and blew it because his mile-wide authoritarian streak simply could not truck any semblance of democratic participation. That might mean, after all, someone being allowed to disagree with him and get away with it. Fijians must by now be asking themselves how much the future of their country has been endangered by relying on the wisdom and equanimity -- or lack thereof -- of one self-appointed leader.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Translating Grubbysplutter

Having invented a new word, I feel duty-bound to explicate it. Sorry, that's an academic word. Let's just talk about it for a while. The aim of propaganda is perception management. Walter Lippmann, a Progressive journalist who was co-opted into the U.S. propaganda effort during the Great War, later wrote the definitive . . .  er, explication of it in his 1922 classic book Public Opinion. He spoke of The World Outside and The Pictures in Our Heads. Propaganda was the attempt to alter the Pictures in Our Heads until they bore little relation to The World Outside. Censorship was central to this. Government news portrayed a preferred picture. Sometimes an underground press portrayed an alternate reality. In Fiji, blogs are the underground press. The freedom blogs certainly portray a different reality than presented by captive and government media. I am assured by freedom bloggers that Bainimarama would stand little chance in a fair election. Others claim he has widespread support. I actually have no idea which of these is closer to the truth. I would be interested to find out.

Meanwhile, I thought it would be interesting to dissect some actual propaganda, pin it up on the white board here and analyse it. Grubby's latest splutterings will do. Let's take it apart piece by piece and see what the reality might be.
GRUBBYSPLUTTER: There are increasing signs of desperation among the anti-government forces in Fiji
REALITY: Activity on the blogs has increased to not quite fever pitch as the regime nixes both the draft constitution and the Constituent Assembly that was supposed to rubber stamp it.  
GRUBBYSPLUTTER: as the country moves closer to the introduction of a brand of democracy that they are desperately trying to prevent – a non-racial model of one person, one vote, one value.
REALITY: I don't know about the other Freedomistas, but that's kind of what I had in mind, too. Why would I want to prevent this? Let's have the election, already.
GRUBBYSPLUTTER: That sense of desperation has reached fever pitch with the publication of the new Draft Constitution
REALITY: Bloggers have jumped all over Frank's draft and compared it with Yash's draft. Frank's would seem to be really a parody of democracy, with limited rights for Fijians. Do they get to vote on this?

GRUBBYSPLUTTER: that specifically stipulates an election in Fiji before the end of September 2014
REALITY: When does the campaign actually start?

GRUBBYSPLUTTER: and the declaration by Voreqe Bainimarama that he intends to contest the poll.
REALITY: We expected nothing else.

GRUBBYSPLUTTER: With precious little in the Draft to criticise,
REALITY: Here's the nutgraf, or what they call in propaganda The Big Lie. The criticism is heaping up in big piles. Frank may not be able to make this fly  
GRUBBYSPLUTTER: the old order in Fiji is in a state of collective meltdown
REALITY: I would instead liken it to awakening from a deep freeze

GRUBBYSPLUTTER: and actively seeking out small targets to kick.
REALITY: there are several people who could be getting kicked soon. Grubby might be one of them. I am safely in Canada.

GRUBBYSPLUTTER: How else to explain the accompanying cyber pamphlet currently being circulated on several anti-government blogs that specifically attacks Grubsheet and our connection with the American company, Qorvis Communications?
REALITY: I think the phrase, in the immortable words of George Dubya, is -- "Mission Accomplished"
And that's only the first paragraph. Any spelling misteaks in this, Grubby?

The power of words to the power of Boo

As soon as I finished laughing which took a long time I actually started to feel sorry for Grubby Davis. He took a ribbing from the Fiji Freedom Bloggers the other day and, like a petulant child, instinctively began lashing out in my direction. He has now been reduced to quibbling about spelling misteaks and has accused me once again of having skills well beyond my actual talents. Alas, I have only words to offer. Some scholarly analysis. Maybe a well-crafted jibe from time to time. Once in a while I'll throw in an outright insult. The power of pictures, on the other hand, takes the power of words to another level. That's where the Bubu comes in. The Discombobulated Bubu, to be exact. She is a Fijian of my acquaintance. More than that, I should not say. Since I relocated back to Canada, we communicate mostly by email. Where I think in terms of words, the Bubu thinks in terms of images.

Illustration by Edge
For example, when I posted my screed dissecting the Fiji Sun last week, the Bubu decided it needed some dressing up. I think you'll have to agree that the illustrations added a certain something. I first became aware of the Bubu late last year, at the height of the Davis-led smear campaign designed to rid Fiji of my media criticism and advocacy for press freedom. (Which has obviously worked out well for them.) The satirical letter writer Truncated Lounge began sending his hilarious Shazzer & Grubby missives to hundreds of Fijians by email in October. Bubu was the first blogger to reprint the fictitious love letters between Davis and MINFO chief Shazzer Smith-Johns the next month, adding some hilarious illustrations. This was a significant development for the Bubublog, which had been dormant for five months by then. Discombobulated Bubu was part of the first wave of Fiji freedom blogs which appeared in early 2007 to protest the clampdown on media freedom that followed the Bainimarama coup of late 2006. By sheer technological serendipity, the desire of stifled Fijians to speak out against the repressive regime was enabled by new online services, such as Blogger and Wordpress, which offered free hosting of personal "web logs," or blogs. Bubu's initial blog entries in March of 2007 were simple heartfelt protests against the police state that began enveloping Fiji, such as troops being stationed in newsrooms and government offices. Her outrage has been emblazoned across the top of her blogsite ever since.
Inspired by Intelligentsiya I am joining in Fiji's fight to retain our freedoms of choice in life - before we know it our freedoms will be taken away and what we take for being normal is really not. We must guard against this at all times and fight to retain what can never be suppressed! A government that knowingly and deliberately violates people’s rights loses the moral authority to demand obedience.
The first illustrations began appearing on her blog the following month and betrayed a wicked sense of humour. After more than five years of fighting, however, the Bubu blog fell into silence last year until being revitalised by the Shazzer & Grubby letters. She illustrates the hilarious letters with even more hilarious Photoshop work, usually giving everyone (except me) Big Hair. She also now reprints some of my blog posts and some news stories on Fiji politics, all of which get the inimitable Bubu illustrations. So far this month she is averaging almost a post a day, whereas until this year her entries have rarely numbered in the double digits a month. As part of this burst of energy, she also provides art for other Fiji freedom blogs, such as Coup 4.5, which ran her poster accusing Grubby of propaganda alongside a dandy depiction of Bainimarama's infamous cassava patch dash to escape his own mutinous troops in 2000. Needless to say, Grubby was unamused, actually accusing me of being behind the artwork.
Dr Edge posted this pamphlet on his widely unread blog site a full day before it was circulated on other anti-government blogs. We actually suspect that he may have been the author, given his uncorrected use of the word “traversty”. This guy is meant to be a journalist educator, or a journalist “scholar” as he so grandly describes himself. Yet clearly spelling is not his strong suit.
This echoed his accusation last November that I was Truncated Lounge, which may have actually put my safety at risk until regime types could be convinced that I had nowhere near the knowledge of Fijian politics required to write such biting satire. When that theory didn't fly, Grubby took me to task the next day just for forwarding the letters, which I could not deny. Now he thinks I'm an artist? And let me get this straight he points for proof of this to the fact that I can't spell? This is one of the worst applications yet of what I have come to call Grubby logic. Davis suffers from his usual shortage of facts and simply fills in the blanks with assumptions designed to suit his own purposes. Here's what actually happened. Bubu sent me the poster last week. I loved it and asked if I could post it on my blog. I pointed out that she had misspelled the word "travesty" and suggested she correct it while I posted the misspelled version. That's no doubt where Grubby spied it first. By the time it showed up on Coup 4.5 a few days later, I had received the corrected version from Bubu and posted it on my blog. Unfortunately, the version that was posted on Coup 4.5 was the original uncorrected version. That led Grubby to burst forth under the headline "Yet another 'traversty' of the truth." But wait, Grubby wasn't finished yet. He managed to wade even deeper into his own doodoo. After deleting a few nasty comments that I and others posted on his blog entry, Davis obviously went back to my blog to double check, only to find that the misspelling had been corrected. What he didn't realize was that the correction had been made long since. In Grubby's mind, it was only because he had pointed out the error.
Wouldn’t you know it? Within minutes of the publication of this posting, Marc Edge has changed “traversty” to travesty on his own posting. Which proves that he was the original author. . . . Pity you can’t change the version published here, which will stand as a testament to your ignorance.
So I obviously can't win with Grubby. From being an eagle-eyed editor who catches other people's errors, I have somehow through Grubby logic been rendered ignorant. But it's good to know that we are getting to him. He wouldn't be issuing such Grubbysplutter if we weren't. Bubu herself has now set the record straight, having been prevented from doing so on the Grubbyblog. "I alone traversed that poster," she admitted. "I have also sent that poster to every single Editor of every single major newspaper in the world, so they may may take a look at Grubby's claims of journalistic independence." I am sure that Grubby will emerge from this noisome misstep, as usual, smelling like a nose. At least in his own mind.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Most democracies allow limits to freedom

A commenter on the Fiji Today blog, where discussion actually ensues, points out that a clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows limitations on media freedom. It is brief, however, compared to the laundry list of limits allowed on media and other freedoms by the Draft Constitution of Fiji. Of course, journalists in all countries are subject to laws of the land, including, for example, court orders protecting the rights of accused persons to a fair trial. Section 1 of the Charter sets out that the rights listed in Section 2 are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Fundamental Freedoms
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
This puts the onus on the courts to decide, according to legal principles and precedent, what is or is not a reasonable and/or justified limit on any right. There has been no shortage of arguing about this in the courts of my country over the past 30 years. (I have sat through endless hours of it.) This is in sharp contrast to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law” limiting its listed freedoms. This has been interpreted by U.S. courts over the past 200 years or so to provide absolute protection of free expression, including hate speech, which has been limited in Canada. The Canadian Charter instead balances the rights of different groups in society, eg. of the press to report freely and of identifiable groups not to be subject to hatred, etc. In practice, most of the cases to result from limitations on free expression rights in Canada have involved Jews objecting to denial of the Holocaust. Some Americans find our laws against hate speech Frankly Ridiculous.

I have previously argued that Fiji has a perfect right to tailor its laws to its national needs without regard for regulatory trends in other countries. For example, in a fit of neoliberal enthusiasm, Australia recently removed restrictions on foreign ownership of media there. Fiji may decide that it instead doesn’t want foreigners (read a certain Australian) controlling its news media and may enact a regulation preventing that, as it did in the 2010 Media Decree. In Canada, we have been historically concerned about Americans controlling our media, but we didn’t want to pass a law that would be seen as restricting press freedom. Instead we passed a tax regulation that said only ads in Canadian-owned media would be deductible from income as a business expense, which has had the effect of discouraging – but not prohibiting – foreign ownership of Canadian media. Hypocritical? Maybe. Sneaky? Definitely.

Limitations on hate speech are certainly justifiable given Fiji’s fractious past and multi-cultural makeup. Such limitations would prevent much of the nastiness that has been seen previously in its media. Under the Draft Constitution, you literally could not say some of the things that have been said – and reported – in the past in Fiji. This is likely a good thing. Many would argue that the Draft Constitution goes too far in allowing limitations on press freedom. I would be one of them. The following allowable limitations are obviously designed to render the regime’s contentious Media Decree constitutional.
17.––(3) A law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the right to freedom of expression in the interests of––

(b) (ii) the rights of persons injured by inaccurate or offensive media reports to have a correction published on reasonable conditions established by law;

(h) making provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.
The regime is intent on regulating media standards and conduct, which most democracies are loathe to do. It has done so under the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree, which sets out fines and even prison sentences for journalists who violate its nebulous provisions. Most media scholars, myself included, warn that this goes too far and unnecessarily restricts media freedom. Journalists will be deterred, if not prevented, from undertaking investigations which are an essential check on elected and non-elected power in a democracy. The Ghai Draft, of course, urged abolition or modification of numerous recent decrees enacted by the regime that would have been unconstitutional under its guaranteed freedoms. Its section on allowable limitations to guaranteed rights was actually very similar to that in the Canadian Charter. It provided that rights could be limited “only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.” Rather than micromanaging rights and freedoms, as the regime attempts to do, this leaves the matter to the courts, which seems more reasonable.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Draft constitution giveth, then taketh away

Media freedom guarantees in the Draft Constitution of Fiji are identical to those in the version proposed by the Ghai commission. Then you get to the next section, which wasn't in the Ghai draft. It says the government of the day can pass laws limiting media freedom. In effect, with one hand the constitution gives Fijians a right, and with the other hand allows the government to take it away. The list of allowable reasons (read excuses) to limit media freedom is HALF AGAIN LONGER than the sections "guaranteeing" media freedom.
17.––(3) A law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the right to freedom of expression in the interests of––
(a) national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or the orderly conduct of elections;
(b) the protection or maintenance of the reputation, privacy, dignity, rights or freedoms of other persons, including––
(i) the right to be free from hate speech, whether directed against individuals or groups; and
(ii) the rights of persons injured by inaccurate or offensive media reports to have a correction published on reasonable conditions established by law;
(c) preventing the disclosure, as appropriate, of information received in confidence;
(d) preventing attacks on the dignity of individuals, groups of individuals or respected offices or institutions in a manner likely to promote ill will between ethnic or religious groups or the oppression of, or discrimination against, any person or group of persons;
(e) maintaining the authority and independence of the courts;
(f) imposing reasonable restrictions on the holders of public offices in order to secure their impartial and confidential service;
(g) regulating the technical administration of telecommunications; or
(h) making provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.
This is exactly what the Ghai commission warned against in tabling its draft constitution in December. In order for its guarantees of media and other freedoms to have any meaning, the commission led by reknowned legal scholar Yash Ghai pointed out, several of the 241 decrees passed by the interim government would have to be repealed or modified. That would, of course, include the contentious 2010 Media Industry Development Decree. It has cast a deep chill over Fiji journalists by subjecting them to fines and even prison sentences for publishing or broadcasting anything deemed "against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord." In a separate Explanatory Report, the Ghai commission insisted that  decrees inconsistent with its proposed constitutional rights would have to be repealed or amended, including the Media Decree, the Television Decree, and the State Proceedings Amendment Decree. In its version, the interim government instead explicitly sets out its right to impose such laws. In effect, it renders the stated "rights" meaningless.

The same sleight of hand is used in subsequent sections "guaranteeing" the rights of Freedom of Assembly, Association, Movement, and even Religion. The regime's Decree Spree has been limiting these rights for years, and the Bainimarama government isn't about to have all its hard work undone by any pesky Constitution. Its Public Emergency Regulation, which imposed martial law in 2009 and was only lifted last year, took away most of those rights. Even though the PER has been lifted, government decrees have since taken away such basic rights as Freedom of Assembly, as seen in the recent cancellation of the planned "Take Back the Night" march because it inconveniently coincided with release of the torture video. In effect, Fiji has been declared to be in a permanent state of emergency and rendered nothing less than a Police State.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bubu strikes again

Misconceived? Frivolous? Something is not quite right here

Professor Subramani
Media Tribunal
Media Industry Development Authority
Suva, Fiji


Dear Professor Subramani,

As a Professor of Literature, I am sure you are well aware of the power of words. When you informed me earlier this week that my complaint against Communications Fiji Limited had been dismissed by MIDA as “misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous,” your words stung badly. I began to doubt the validity of my complaint, which I was able to justify to you in great detail with reference to specific sections of the Media Decree.  I have since revisited the facts as I set them out to you and also re-read the sections of the Decree which I say should apply to those facts. After doing so, I remain convinced of the validity of my complaint. To be told that it was “misconceived” and “frivolous” is mystifying indeed. Yours is a quasi-judicial body, and as such I feel it is insufficient to simply state that a complaint has or lacks merit, especially in the language you have used. Reasons should be given to support the dismissal and the terms in which it is expressed. This is especially important with a new body such as yours, which has issued few or (to my knowledge) no previous rulings. Legislation such as the Media Decree is often unclear and ambiguous, thus requiring interpretation. Accumulated jurisprudence, in the form of rulings by your group, will be of assistance to journalists in understanding what is and is not acceptable behavior according to the Decree, and to MIDA.

As set out in my complaint, I believe that the request for an interview which I received from Legend FM reporter Dhanjay Deo on 11 September last amounted to “subterfuge” as set out in Section 5 of the Media Decree because he did not “use straightforward means to obtain information.” The true subject of the interview was not what he told me it would be. It was, in short, an “ambush” interview or a classic “bait and switch.” Note that I am not complaining about how Mr Deo browbeat me and continually cut me off during the interview. That would not be covered by the Media Decree under my reading of it. Such behavior is instead a matter of common courtesy – or lack thereof – and was adequately addressed by my termination of the interview. When Legend FM and other CFL radio stations broadcast portions of my interview, however, I believe they were contravening Section 5 of the Media Decree because it was obtained by use of subterfuge. It also may have contravened Section 23 of the Decree because the interview was clearly not “arranged, conducted, and edited fairly and honestly.” As a potential interviewee, I was entitled under this section “to know in advance the format, subject, and purpose” of the interview. I was instead the victim of journalistic misrepresentation. As mentioned in my complaint, this unethical – indeed illegal – behavior by Mr Deo was aggravated by Mr Narayan, the news director of CFL, to whom I complained. His inclusion in the story that was broadcast on CFL radio stations and posted on of portions of what I said in my complaint to him similarly contravened Sections 5 and 23 of the Media Decree, to my mind.

Your brief email of 18 March dismissing my complaint contains no information by which the merits of my complaint can be assessed. Did members of your board find the facts as I stated them to be incorrect? You told me in November that MIDA board members had “decided to obtain from CFL broadcast tapes and all other relevant information so that the board can make full and fair assessment of your complaint.” Were these in fact obtained? If so, what was contained in them that resulted in the dismissal of my complaint? If they were not obtained, what was the reason? Did Mr Deo and/or Mr Narayan provide any response to my complaint either defending their actions or disputing the applicability of the Media Decree to them? If they did, why was I not provided with that information so I could assess it and, if necessary, dispute it? I would be very surprised if MIDA dismissed my complaint without any need to obtain the other side of the story. I am appalled that I was not made privy to that information and allowed to respond to it.

To state that my complaint was “misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous” is thus literally unjustified by you. I respectfully request any reasons you are able to provide for this ruling and the terms in which it was expressed. My understanding of the Media Decree is that it is intended to raise the standards of journalism in Fiji, which in my experience are badly in need of it. If journalists are allowed to engage in the type of behaviour to which I was subjected by Mr Deo and Mr Narayan, the result will be quite the opposite. Without some clarification of the above issues, the result will inevitably be increased confusion. Please note that, in the interests of transparency, I have posted this on my blog for the information of the public, as I did with my original complaint.

Yours Sincerely,

Marc Edge, PhD
Vancouver, Canada


Dear Marc
As we do not have your postal address I have to communicate to you through email. First, I would like to apologize for the delay in considering your complaint against Communications Fiji Ltd, its reporter Dhanjay Deo and News Director Vijay Narayan. In your letter to MIDA dated 25th September 2012, you mentioned 'subterfuge' and obtaining of information through means that were unethical in your view. You had asked for penalties to be imposed. After inquiry into the matter, MIDA found your complaint misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous. In the context of Media Code 61, we have no option but to dismiss your complaint.

Should you wish to pursue the matter, Media Code 62 allows for hearing by a Tribunal.
I'm sorry we are not able to take this matter further.
Yours Sincerely

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is the Fiji Sun even a newspaper?

Bernard Lagan is obviously a very astute man. The veteran journalist and author only had to peruse the Fiji Sun's website briefly to get a flavour for the . . . er, publication. In researching the torture video story for the online Global Mail in Australia, Lagan apparently decided to check out the coverage on some of Fiji's news websites. What he saw at obviously shocked him. "The Fiji Sun is a despot's dream," Lagan fulminated. "It routinely – and shamelessly – publishes news stories by writers within the country’s Ministry of Information." Well, to be fair, the Fiji Times does that as well. It's just that journalists for the Sun might as well be on Minfo's payroll. Some actually may be. Lagan decided to do a quick tour of the Sun's website to evaluate its coverage of politics. What he saw instead became the focus of his report, bumping mention of the shocking video down several paragraphs below his description of the Sun's shocking journalism.
At lunchtime on Wednesday, on the paper’s website, the five top-placed stories all concerned the current tour of Fiji’s north by the Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The tone of each would surely sweeten the most vinegary of government spin-doctors. The first headline read: “Why PM in North: Listening to People, Responding to Needs". Those following were equally heartwarming. Among them: “PM Hands Over Home”; “PM Promises New School Block”; and “PM Commends Military”. Most were accompanied by a rather wooden photo of the leader listening, responding, handing over or commending.
Lagan has only just discovered what those of us who read the Sun regularly have known for years. The once-proud daily relentlessly promotes the military dictatorship. It also vigilantly smears anyone who dares to even question any move made by the Bainmarma junta. That's what happened to me, of course, as soon as I began speaking out against the appalling level of Fiji journalism and advocating for press freedom there.  Before long, I was gone from Fiji. Am I sore? You're damn right I'm sore. I'm about as sore as those poor bastards in the video. Does that mean I'm biased against the Sun? Maybe it does. It would be hard not to be after the kind of treatment I received on its pages. But I went to Fiji completely neutral on the issues that embroil the media there. I wanted to meet all the players and hear them argue their positions personally before I  made my mind up about anything. Sun publisher Peter Lomas and editor Epineri Vula were two of the first journalists I met there, over lunch at J.J.'s on the Park. (Peter picked up the tab.) Having done some research, I played dumb as they sung the praises first of Kiwi blogger Crosbie Walsh, then of Minfo dominatrix Sharon Smith-Johns, pointing out that she was a veteran of Australian newspapers. I could hold my tongue no longer by then and pointed out that, far from coming from a background in journalism, she was from the advertising side of the business. "How did you know that?" spluttered Lomas, his mouth agape. It's called research, Peter, and there's a lot more where that came from.

Lagan traces the Sun's demise as a serious news organisation to the 2008 deportation of publisher Russell Hunter after he dared to run a story about a minister’s failure to pay his taxes. Quoth Lagan: "Since then, The Sun has shone more reliably from the Commodore’s rear." Ouch! Now it's Lomas who is sore. "Your column on Fiji and the Fiji Sun is unfortunately a long way from the truth," Lomas protested in a comment on the Global Mail story. "You rely too much on Marc Edge as an informant." There he is mistaken. I wasn't a source for the story at all. The first I heard of it was when someone unknown to me (not Lagan) sent me a link to it. The story merely mentions this blog favorably in its final few paragraphs. Like me, Lagan was hard-pressed to find any coverage of the torture video on the Sun's website, noting that it had "pretty much managed to look the other way." Lomas claimed otherwise.
The Fiji Sun had similar front page coverage of the "beating video" to the Fiji Times, despite claims by you and Edge that it did not. The day you refer to we had coverage and comment on pages 1, 2, and 3. It included the mother's tearful reaction and photo as the front page, just as the Fiji Times had. Anyone who makes claims such as you and Edge do is just plain wrong and out of touch on Fiji.
This has since been confirmed by some inside Fiji who have been able to follow the Sun's coverage in print, which raises the question of why those stories would not be posted online as well. I have been able to find only one story about the video on the Sun's website, headlined "Police Speak Out," from 6 March. It led with police promises to investigate, then took issue with Fairfax NZ reporter Michael Field's first article on the "horrific" video, which broke the story worldwide. Instead of focusing on the brutality displayed by Fiji security forces, the Sun story jumped all over an error made by Field, whom it claimed "has a record of anti-Fiji reporting." (I would argue that he is instead guilty of anti-regime reporting, which according to the junta is the same thing.) Field reported that the video, which was first posted on Facebook before being removed and posted on YouTube, depicted the beating of prisoners recaptured after an escape from Naboro prison last September. In fact, as if it really mattered, the victims were a prisoner recaptured after a subsequent breakout in November and his alleged accomplice. There was outrage expressed in the Sun story, by Shamima Ali of the Coalition on Human Rights, but it was buried at the bottom of the story. This is less journalism than government public relations. It echoes the coverage by Quibbling Croz, who also mistakenly identified the victims at first as Naboro escapees recaptured in September before issuing a panicked correction. I can almost envision Croz and Lomas getting the same sharp phone call from Minfo pointing out the discrepancy.

The appointment of Lomas as Sun publisher in early 2009 brought a sea change in the newspaper's coverage of government. From a vigorous watchdog of government under Hunter, it suddenly became a devoted lapdog of the Bainimarama regime. The blogs quickly noticed. "The Fiji Sun is sounding like someone who's taken a heavy dose of Valium," quipped Fiji Democracy Now in April of that year. The newspaper that had been named the best of the year in 2008 and once featured award-winning investigative reporting from journalists such as Victor Lal, had become strangely quiescent, noted Raw Fiji News.
But all that has changed with the appointment of a new publisher, Peter Lomas, who has no doubt shown a liking to Frank's junta. Fiji Sun's content has not only become another boring one-sided propaganda newspaper for Frank but they have even gone as far as congratulating Frank's appointments.
Then came the constitutional crisis that led to the Easter Putsch that year. It included the imposition of martial law in the form of the Public Emergency Regulation, which installed censors in newsrooms and was only lifted last year. Even Lomas protested that, declaring in a front page editorial headlined "We ban politics" that the paper would no longer publish political stories of any kind. "When it comes to reporting fairly on politics," the statement pointed out, "journalists were severely restricted by the most recent directive from the government." That ban didn't last. According to the Guardian, Lomas and his editor were soon summoned by the regime. Before long a new Sun was shining over Fiji. "I remember that you commented that the Sun had to go back to ABCs of journalism soon after your appointment," a commenter on Coup 4.5 noted, pointing out the change of direction under Lomas. "Is bootlicking in broad daylight of the military regime Peter Lomas' theory of ABCs of journalism?"

A brutal military regime such as has been in place in Fiji for more than six years now could not exist without enablers like Lomas and other compliant "journalists." I put that word in quotes because, while Lomas and others may once have been faithful to reporting truthfully, they have obviously gone over to the dark side of propaganda. They are now cruising a one-way street on which there is no going back. They have crossed the Rubicon and are fully invested in the regime, which seemingly unravels daily. Should freedom ever revisit Fiji, they will have some amends to make and more, as the anonymous C4.5 commenter noted in no uncertain terms.
And to Peter Lomas, Veejay Narayan, Riyaz Khaiyum and those who have chosen to jump into bed with the dictators, remember you will be judged by your Karma when judgment day comes. From your current and consistent action of bootlicking, you people have earned your passport to hell. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When You Can Say Nothing, Video Everything

By Bernard Lagan
The Global Mail
March 14, 2013

The Fiji Sun newspaper is a despot’s dream. It routinely – and shamelessly – publishes news stories by writers within the country’s Ministry of Information. For sports coverage, it often relies on stories supplied by the Fiji Rugby Union. At lunchtime on Wednesday, on the paper’s website, the five top-placed stories all concerned the current tour of Fiji’s north by the Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The tone of each would surely sweeten the most vinegary of government spin-doctors. The first headline read: “Why PM in North: Listening to People, Responding to Needs". Those following were equally heartwarming. Among them: “PM Hands Over Home”; “PM Promises New School Block”; and “PM Commends Military”. Most were accompanied by a rather wooden photo of the leader listening, responding, handing over or commending. Fiji makes for beautiful photographs, but cameras wielded by Fijians are showing a different side of the island paradise. This is the kind of winning coverage a country’s leader can expect when his forces seize a newspaper’s publisher from his home at night, spirit him to the airport and force him onto an outbound flight, despite a High Court injunction against the deportation. That’s what happened to the Sun’s former publisher Russell Hunter four years ago, after he ran a story about a minister’s failure to pay his taxes. Since then, The Sun has shone more reliably from the Commodore’s rear. Its competitor publication, the venerable Fiji Times, which is less riveted by Commodore Bainimarama and his government, has meanwhile unhappily been the recipient of ill-luck; it has suffered the loss of millions of dollars of government advertising to The Fiji Sun. And three weeks ago, the Fiji Times was fined $300,000, and its editor sent to prison for six months after the newspaper was found to have scandalised the Fiji judiciary. The Times had reprinted in its sports pages a New Zealand newspaper article which quoted a soccer official’s views on the integrity of the bench. The High Court gave the Times an extra wallop because, it said, an aggravating factor in the paper’s latest transgression was its apparently unwelcome suggestion, published last June, that the Fiji Courts may not be independent of the Government. The Bainimarama Government’s efforts to better manage its media profile have extended to its engaging the well-known Washington lobbyist and spin-doctoring outfit, Qorvis Communications, for a fee of USD 40,000 a month. However, nine minutes of shaky mobile-phone video uploaded to the internet on March 4 are currently taxing the Fijian Government’s faith in media management, especially its vigorous efforts to convince the rest of the world that its islands and atolls are safely back on the track to democracy. (Colonel Bainimarama has twice taken unelected power — but he has offered elections next year.) The video that’s vexing the government shows a handcuffed young man lying in the back of a utility vehicle being repeatedly beaten with a wooden pole and then with a metal rod. A snarling dog is then let loose upon another victim, it drags him by his shirt past his attackers who then beat him as he falls to the ground. Fijian police initially denied reports that the beaten men were prison escapees. But this week some prison officers were sacked by authorities in relation to the images on the video. Warning: The footage below is graphic and contains violence and nudity. Within two days of being uploaded, the video had racked up 65,500 views, with other videos added; these had been reported by the international media, and had prompted censure of the Fijian Government by the New Zealand Parliament, where on Friday protests are planned in Wellington and Auckland. The spotlight on the incident was intensified by Colonel Bainimarama himself, who on the weekend aired his view that no matter what an official investigation might uncover, the attackers would not lose his confidence: “At the end of the day, I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation,” Bainimarama told a local radio reporter. “We cannot discard them just because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation and making sure we sleep peacefully at night.” The victims are alive and back in jail. While the Fiji Sun has pretty much managed to look the other way in terms of reporting on the video, not so the feisty, if embattled, Fiji Times. The paper found the mother of one of the bashing victims, and filled its front page with her tear-streaked face, and the words: “My son, my son.” The video’s race around the world has prompted an underground, student-led campaign from within some Fijian secondary schools, called Say Nothing Video Everything. Camera-equipped mobile phones and the internet have created an evidence-gathering mechanism far more difficult to refute than a signed witness statement. They are a potent tool for those bent on exposing the truth. Dr Marc Edge is a critic of Fiji’s media controls and as a result, another victim of the Fijian Government’s discomfort with such criticism. Edge, an eloquent Canadian, was the head of journalism at Fiji’s University of the South Pacific until late last year. Then he abruptly left. In a posting on his blog on the weekend, Edge noted that it was the American media theorist Neil Postman who said that video carries a different kind of truth than mere words can express. While words are best at carrying abstract ideas, moving images are best at carrying gut emotion. As Edge says, the internet now allows near instant streaming of videos to audiences of millions — making it the most powerful medium yet. Out of the phones of babes may yet come the revolution.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The emotional power of video

The late American media theorist Neil Postman postulated that video conveys a different kind of truth than mere words can express. While words are best at conveying abstract ideas, moving images are best at conveying gut emotion. While you might hear or even read stories about horrifying human rights abuses in Fiji and have no doubt that they go on, neither oral nor written medium can match the power of watching the actual abuse on video and hearing the pitiful moans of its victims. That's why television was the most powerful medium of all, according to the New York University scholar, who was known for providing concrete examples that helped prove the truth of Marshall McLuhan's aphorism "the medium is the message." But Postman was a noted Luddite who eschewed technology when it began to take off in his latter years. He refused to use email and even insisted on churning out his voluminous writings on a typewriter instead of a computer. Postman died a decade ago, before the Internet really took off with bandwidth speeds that enabled streaming video. That has allowed clips such as this week's torture porn to go "viral" in a matter of hours, which arguably makes it the most powerful medium yet. As a result of the worldwide exposure received by the sickening video of security forces beating and sodomising an escaped convict and his alleged accomplice last November, even Postman's hometown New York Times took notice today.
The nine minutes of shaky cellphone footage are hard to watch, not because of the quality but because of the content. A young man lies handcuffed on the bed of a pickup truck, wailing as he is beaten repeatedly with a thick baton. Later, his assailant switches to a metal rod, the man’s thighs and buttocks already a stark canvas of welts and bruises. A snarling dog drags another victim past his laughing attackers, who punch the man relentlessly as he slumps to the ground.
The video is a stunning setback to the dictatorship's attempts to portray the island nation as safely on the road back to democracy, raising as it does the question of whether it needs to be civilised first. Almost as shocking as the graphic violence it portrays is the official sanction the punishment received from the dictator himself. No sooner had police properly denounced the abuse than the country's self-appointed ruler pointedly stood behind it. "Like every Fijian, we were disturbed to see the video that has emerged of what appears to be the abuse of two men," police Inspector Atunaisa Sokomuri told a press conference before abruptly refusing to field questions. (Hilariously, The Australian mis-attributed the statement to "Fijian military spokesperson Michael Field," mistakenly naming the veteran reporter for Fairfax Media in New Zealand, who would be about the last person to issue a statement on behalf of the regime.) While impermanent secretary for disinformation Sharon Smith-Johns did her best to put out the fire by promising there would be no further comment on the matter, prime minister Frank Bainimarama simply had to throw accelerant on the flames by demonstrating personally that not exactly every Fijian was outraged. "At the end of the day, I will stick by my men, by the police officers or anyone else that might be named in this investigation,” Bainimarama told a compliant local radio reporter. “We cannot discard them just because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation and making sure we sleep peacefully at night.” The military commander, who seized power in 2006 and has reportedly brutalised regime opponents personally, left little doubt that he likely ordered the thrashings himself, along with those of five prisoners who escaped earlier last year, one of whom had to have a leg amputated as a result. The dictator is such a public relations disaster that he can't even get onside with a cover-up of the ugly incidents, instead pointing out their benefits.
A lot of people too don’t seem to understand what came out of the interrogation that happened during that time. . . . One of them was those guys had been taught how to react during interrogation, what to say, how to plead with those people that had arrested them. During the arrest of those Naboro prisoners last year, we discovered that whilst they were still under arrest, people from inside the prison were still calling them on their phones.
As usual, the regime's spin doctors at Qorvis Communications have to be holding their heads in their hands and wondering if it is even possible to help such thuggish morons. Current best practices in crisis management hold that either you clam up and hope the problem goes away, or if that is unavoidable you come clean, admit your sins and apologise, hoping for forgiveness. Bainimarama has now personally prevented either avenue of amelioration. At least the regime's newsletter, the Fiji Sun, has done its part, mentioning not a word about the offensive video. Thankfully the country's only aspiring newspaper has finally decided to do its job in the face of repeated regime intimidation with its recent $300,000 fine for contempt and new charges of violating the Media Decree. The Fiji Times took the elementary step of interviewing the brutalised prisoner's parents, who naturally lamented their son's mistreatment. Fiji TV even led its nightly newscast with blurred excerpts of the torture session, although degrading the video scarcely lessened its impact. FBC, which is run by the Attorney-General's brother, declined to run clips from the video, focusing instead on police promises of an investigation. Regime blogger Grubby Davis drew praise from some quarters for a balanced analysis of the scandal, showing that he may have finally come to apprehend that effective propaganda cannot be blatantly one-sided. Yet the rhetoric he used left little doubt that Davis, like his paymaster, condoned the abuse.
Doubtless many ordinary Fijians are fed up with the kind of lawlessness that saw much of Suva terrorised during the Naboro Prison mass breakout last September. They want a tough response against law-breakers and especially home invaders. . . . The fact is that police brutality occurs the world over. Bad things happen in good countries. . . . In truth, many law abiding Fijians actually like being ruled with an iron fist if it means being able to sleep soundly in their beds at night.
And don't even get me started on Quibbling Croz. "STOP PRESS," screamed Croz in bold atop his blog entry describing the video as "vivid, horrid and looks authentic." No doubt the octogenarian Kiwi received a rebuke from Suva for misreporting that the video "allegedly shows a police beating of two escaped prisoners in September last year," which led to amputation. "Please ignore the sentences n italics," pleaded a panicked Croz. "I am informed the video did not show this incident." The freedom blogs, of course, were outraged and more. Coup 4.5 lost little time using its network of sources inside the country's security services to identify most of the perpetrators visible on the video, allegedly including several former Rugby Sevens national team players and one of Bainimarama's most trusted bodyguards and drivers. But blame for the incident, according to C4.5, lay squarely with "the violence [Bainimarama] has evoked to stay in power and his failure to provide leadership and discipline for police, army and Corrections officers who are assaulting and killing citizens."
He is accountable for the deaths of Nimolote Verabasaga, who was tortured the same way Naboro Prsioners were, the escaped prisoner Josefa Baileiloa who was killed by Fiji police in Suva in July 2008 during his recapture. There was also Tevita Malasebe who died after suffering severe injuries after being taken in for questioning in 2007. People are also right to remember prison escapee David Wise, who was brutally beaten to death in 2001. And we should not forget the CRW soldiers who were killed at his request.
Veteran blogger Discombobulated Bubu pointed out that the type of abuse portrayed by the video was business as usual under the dictatorship, which is well known for keeping its subjects in line with bashings and the threat thereof. "The world was exposed today to what goes on if Fiji on a daily basis. . . . Fiji is being ambushed, wacked and kicked, and prodded up the rear DAILY. The dignity of its citizens are stripped and laughed at everyday by the rascals that make up the military regime." The difference now is that there is video evidence to prove that to the world, despite the friendly face the regime and its propagandists try to put on the troubled isles. No doubt the country's economy will suffer, as tourism is bound to be affected. Coming hard on the heels of such black eyes this year as the rejection of the draft constitution, the profane excoriation by Bainimarama of elderly Catholic priest Father Kevin Barr and his ordered (then revoked) expulsion, not to mention the crushing fine handed to the Fiji Times, the torture video takes to a new level the bad publicity the regime has brought on itself in a matter of weeks. Almost unbelievably, it then went and compounded its latest problem by cancelling the permit for this year's "Take Back the Night" march organised by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre for fear it might protest the videoed torture. That not only reminds everyone that the basic human right of freedom of assembly is absent in Fiji, despite the lifting of martial law last year, but it demonstrates to all that even Fijian feminists are cowed by the regime. In any other country, women's right advocates would have reacted by turning out in twice the usual numbers for their annual demonstration and daring the regime to stop them. Forget taking back the night in Fiji. Start with taking back the day.