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Journalism

Jul 13, 2010

Fiji censorship like dark matter: impossible to see, but still there

Censorship is an almost all pervading thing; anything even slightly critical is blue-pencilled out of existence. But it's what's not there that's most important, writes Michael Field.

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Australia’s top diplomat has been expelled from Fiji for “unfriendly acts”. Not that you’d read about it there.

Watching Fiji these days is a bit like astronomy and physics: you can look into the universe and know that dark matter exists. It is just that it is impossible to see. Theory says it has to be there, and that is like Fiji.

Censorship is an almost all pervading thing; anything even slightly critical is blue-pencilled out of existence. However, not quite. If you look carefully at the Fiji media, you can see what is not there, even as in the parallel universe of reality, it exists.

Take the typhoid epidemic. Officially, it is under control and everything is fine, problem solved. Look again, the Fiji media keeps reporting it is all well, every week. Censorship has pushed the Fiji media into black hole, while out here, in the real world, there are other clues that typhoid is not at all well, and not under control.

The thing is, ordinary people are hearing the same things I am hearing now around the crashing health system; it is why the Fiji media keep reporting all is well. They are not going to report that things are deteriorating.

Look at the Fiji media; there is almost no crime other than that which can be spun by the military regime into evidence against previous regimes. So, when an old lady of some earlier fame is gang raped in her Suva old folks home, it does not get into the censored press. It cannot be blamed on former PM Laisenia Qarase; it is here and now.

Another piece of dark matter floating around is the Land Use Decree. We are told that this will lead to a rational and reasonable use of leased land. We are told, repeatedly, about how badly land was used in the past. Again and again, without specific reference to lands being, well, rationalised.

Why is that? Censored Fiji is not being told what is happening.

In fact, the decree is rationalising — and that is not the word — the beginnings of a kind of Mugabe land grab. I know of large well-managed properties around Viti Levu where people aligned with the Bainimarama regime are now getting doubtful orders from the corrupt courts to have land seized. In one case, a prominent military appointed court official has managed to get orders seizing white leased farmland without any compensation to the leaseholder.

Some of it even slips through the censor’s net: Momi Bay and Lagoon Resort in Pacific Harbour. Again, it is not what you read, but what you don’t read. The Black Matter is the name, or names, of the people in the regime who will profit from these seizures.

Bainimarama says corruption has gone; in fact, it is the black matter we cannot now see in the New Legal Order.

Look at the Surfing Decree, proclaiming the waves of Fiji open to all. Well, who could argue that robbing a fat cat’s property and giving it to the poor (or in this case, the lazy surfers of the world) is laudable. Just that Fiji might just find it increasingly harder to attract the fat cats any more.

After all, if the military gun can steal the waves, what about the resorts on the land next to them? Free rooms at Treasure Island; free room service at the Sheraton? Watch out Vomo.

What is notably absent from the censored press is any coverage — not a solitary word — of the discussion and consultation that preceded the Surfing Decree. Dark matter buried in there.

Another clue that all is rotten in Fiji is in Frank Bainimarama’s emergency budget. He said he had to bring it out because of unexpected events that he did not think of in his earlier budget. These included cyclones and rain. Cyclones and rain, unexpected, in Fiji?

In addition, his economic projections were knocked over by a termite outbreak in Nadi. Who does he think he is kidding? Termite treatment costs less than the Chinese weapons he is proposing to buy for the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

A lot of black matter floating around in those unchallenged ‘budget’ statements. One of which was why wasn’t there money for a rainy day?

Bainimarama says he is going off to the IMF to get $1 billion. However, he says they will only take it up after “placing paramountcy on what is in the best interest for Fiji and her people”.

Why would you state such an apparently obvious thing? It’s simple — as Greece and other much more powerful countries have long since found out; when you are broke and holding out a begging bowl no one cares about your paramountcy. Therefore, you tell the world — like pissing into the wind — that your paramountcy matters. No, it does not, and you will not read that in the Fiji media.

Then, there was the Media Decree. Now that came after 150 minutes of “consultation” with the media industry. The difference between the April draft and the June version is modest in the extreme.

Just before going there though, a small piece of unnoticed context, more dark matter if you like. Two weeks before the decree blitz hit, Bainimarama and his bag peon Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, announced they were off to the Arab League where, the censored media assured us all, the Middle East was about to sprinkle US$50 million in gold on the regime. The censored media said, repeatedly, that this was Fiji’s money to claim.

There was black matter, unreported; the Arabs offered US$50 million to be “shared” among 14 Pacific nations, not just Fiji. Bainimarama delivered a speech to the assembled Arabs that was so bad I doubt even he can remember what he said. Then he and bag boy came home.

Nothing more in the censored media; it has gone, black matter. Don’t mention the Arabs.

Yes, we can determine from that vacant space that Bainimarama got nothing. Zilch. Chances are he even had to pay for his own mini-bar.

Nothing in the media equates with nothing in Fiji. So, they come home and immediately change the subject. They attack the media and Rupert Murdoch in particular.

Have no doubt, Bainimarama is being nasty and vindictive in the most self-destructive way. Investors have had the message driven home with ruthless efficiency; if we don’t like you, we will change the rules. It is robbery, straight and simple. It is also anti-democratic, oppressive and designed to squeeze out whatever independent thought is left.

Michael Field is the author of Swimming With Sharks: Tales from the South Pacific Frontline

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11 comments

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11 thoughts on “Fiji censorship like dark matter: impossible to see, but still there

  1. Bogdanovist

    Such a sad deterioration of a country.

    By the way, you seem to use ‘dark matter’ and ‘black matter’ interchangebly? It is most definately and always ‘dark matter’. The other term isn’t used at all within the field.

  2. Stephen Marshall

    I am tired of the one sided reporting that emanates from Australia and NZ and now includes Crikey; go and visit the country, head into the heart of politics there, Suva, see and hear for yourself what the vast majority have to say – welcome relief from the corruption that was pervading Fiji and the lining of pockets of the so-called leadership of the nation, despite the heavy financial cost that the likes of Oz and NZ are causing. Our governments policy towards Fiji can be likened to the now dead ‘headmaster knows best and you’ll do waht I say’!

  3. Meski

    Attack Rupert Murdoch? Seems he has some redeeming qualities. You choose if I mean Murdoch or Bananarama.

  4. warwick fry

    A bit like the deterioration in journalism. A nice puff piece, very emotive, but give us some detail and facts on what is going on behind the ‘black hole’ in journalism in Fiji. There are a lot of black holes out there, and it is the work of a good journalist to stop them. Otherwise …

    The honest journalist always checks his or her ‘feed’. And then cross checks it again. Black holes are a quantum effect … in the detail, compressed and then spewed out again. (Of course, there more bad journalists than there are good journalists, but that is beside the point).

  5. Gavin Moodie

    It would be good if the current Fiji regime is reducing corruption, but why should it be at the expense of democracy?

  6. Sean

    I liked the old days when whites could just appropriate (buy/bribe/swap for something shiny) all the lush beachfront properties and close off the thoroughfares down to the beach for the locals so they couldn’t use or enjoy their own island any more, but maybe they could get a job at the new Hilton turning down beds! And forget traditional patterns of use and ownership of the land, it was all partitioned into quarter acre blocks for your little slice of paradise for sale. Where is that white man’s paradise now, Michael? Don’t tell me it’s gone. If things get really bad and white-unfriendly, maybe we should send in some more ‘peacekeepers’ so they see common sense again. If it’s all underwater one day we’ll abandon it like a hot potato of course, no value then.

  7. scottyea

    Hope you got a thrill out of writing that, ‘Michael’.

  8. OBlizzard

    Stephen Marshall

    [I am tired of the one sided reporting that emanates from Australia and NZ and now includes Crikey; go and visit the country, head into the heart of politics there, Suva, see and hear for yourself what the vast majority have to say – welcome relief from the corruption that was pervading Fiji and the lining of pockets of the so-called leadership of the nation, despite the heavy financial cost that the likes of Oz and NZ are causing. Our governments policy towards Fiji can be likened to the now dead ‘headmaster knows best and you’ll do waht I say’!]

    Ah, the old white imperialism chestnut. If someone leads a successful coup in a south pacific nation in the name of “democratic reform”, ruins the nations economy, drives away foreign investment, suspends the rule of law, heavily sensors and politicises the press, restricts all political freedom and engages in corruption, its ok because some guy says he spoke to a few people in Suva, “the heart of politics there”, and they think this Frank guy is all right. You have to be bullshitting right? You jest?

    Not only that but somehow Fiji’s economic woes are Australia’s fault (!) for saying “that’s bad” and imposing economic sanctions on the people governing the place i.e. its those nasty whities destroying the nations economy with their mean words, not the incompetent military dictatorship running the place. And of course we have no right to comment on the affairs of a neighbouring state because that would just be the white people telling the brown people what to do! How imperialistic of us. I suppose if the regime in Suva started posting prescriptions and hanging people in the streets any Australian intervention would just be more “white imperialism” right? I mean the “headmaster” shouldn’t be telling other nations how to run their affairs, even if ethnic cleansing is their thing…

  9. manulevu

    As a Fiji resident I can affirm that Michael Field’s first statement is inaccurate – the story about the expulsion of the Australian High Commissoner was reported in the ‘Fiji Sun’ this morning and was lead story on the Fiji evening television news.

    Local doctors seem to think the typhoid epidemic is under control, so I have no idea what ‘other clues’ Field is talking about. The rape of the elderly lady was reported in the local press.

    Yes there is censorship – though the generally poor quality of the local media long pre-dated it – but that does not mean that everything that is in the local papers is untrue. Field’s long-running feud with Bainimarama is well known here, and certainly does not make him an objective reporter.

    The situation in Fiji is far from ideal, but exaggerations on the scale of Field’s article do not help.

  10. Meski

    @Manulevu:

    Posted Wednesday, 14 July 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
    As a Fiji resident I can affirm that Michael Field’s first statement is inaccurate – the story about the expulsion of the Australian High Commissoner was reported in the ‘Fiji Sun’ this morning and was lead story on the Fiji evening television news.

    This story was written Tuesday, so you can hardly say it is inaccurate. Perhaps you’re messing up cause and effect? (IOW, this article caused the reports in Fiji. At least that makes sense, timewise)

  11. Nearlythere

    @Manulevu

    Check your timing pls before throwing brickbats,

    Expulsion was first reported on ABC online at 8.04pm AEST on Monday 12 July.
    Michael Field posted this article on Crikey on Tuesday 13 July.

    However:
    Fiji TV news did not report the expulsion until 6pm on 13 July.
    The Fiji Sun did not report the expulson until Wednesday 14 July – by which stage it was old news, (outside of Fiji, of course !).

    Nearlythere

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