Pacific Media Watch
The Press and the Putsch controversy
Title -- 3148 FIJI: Author slams flawed PINA Nius Online report
Date -- 12 December 2000
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- USP Journalism Programme
Copyright -- USP Journalism
Status -- Unabridged
AUTHOR SLAMS FLAWED PINA NIUS ONLINE REPORT
By David Robie
University of the South Pacific
SUVA: I was disappointed to read the PINA Nius Online report (December 12) which purported to be a "news story" about my paper "Coup Coup Land: The Press and the Putsch in Fiji" presented at last week's Journalism Education Association (JEA) conference in Australia.
It fact it was thinly disguised opinion - an example of precisely the sort of distorted, unfair journalism and misrepresentation that part of my paper deals with. One would expect a journalist dealing with such a contentious issue to interview me to seek balance.
It would also be professional practice for PINA Nius Online to carry the byline of the author.
Amid the highly selective quotes, there is no mention of the praise that I handed out to local media, such as to the Daily Post for its reporting guidelines during the crisis.
Any journalist who has seriously reflected on the events of the last seven months in Fiji has pondered the dilemmas and ethical questions posed by George Speight's putsch, particularly over the Parliament media live-in "insiders".
Many foreign journalists have written about these very issues in a perceptive and honest way. Sadly, not many Fiji journalists have done this. In fact, media ethics get little debate in Fiji and when the issue is raised by non-media people, journalists become very defensive.
Mary-Louise O'Callaghan in The Australia's excellent weekly Media magazine last Thursday, ironically the day after my paper was presented in Mooloolaba, focused in a three-page article, entitled "Paradise exposed", on the issue of whether the Pacific's local media should bear some of the responsibility for the political turmoil that has engulfed the region.
She quoted the Fiji Times editor-in-chief, Russell Hunter, as saying, "We should take our share of the blame", referring in particular to the failure of the media in Fiji to adequately explain the 1997 constitution's fundamental safeguards to the grassroots people.
My paper addresses the poor relationship between the media and the coalition government as a factor in the upheaval, and the subsequent coverage of the illegal regime and reconciliation.
Apart from my analysis and research, it also quotes at length prominent journalists such as former Daily Post editor Jale Moala, Agence France-Presse's Michael Field, The Age's Tom Parkinson and The Australian's Brian Woodley. In many ways, their conclusions parallel mine.
The PINA Nius Online report mentions three Fiji journalists being present for my paper, but not one of them actually interviewed me (unlike Papua New Guinean journalists who did).
The misrepresentations and out-of-context quotes in the article are too numerous to deal with here.
However, for example, the article paraphrases me as saying "most Fiji journalists are young and untrained".
Quite true. But what I actually said was "the bulk of Fiji journalists are young, untrained and with limited experience". But PINA Nius Online didn't go on to say that I cited statistics such as that almost half of Fiji's journalists (47 per cent) have no qualifications and the median age is 22.
I have devoted more than 35 years of my life to journalism and journalism education. Fiji would have the youngest and least experienced journalists, as a group, of any country I have lived in.
These days in Australia and New Zealand, you can barely get your foot in the door for a job interview with an editor unless you have a basic journalism qualification.
I did have some words of praise for Pacific Journalism Online (along with other local media). I am in good company - Australian judges have awarded Pacific Journalism Online the premier Ossie Award prize for best student journalism publication (any medium) in the region.
Interested readers should browse my full 7500 word paper on line in context, not rely on the distorted PINA Nius Online version.
MEDIA: New Zealander criticises Fiji journalists and news organisations
Published in Fiji's Daily Post, 13 December 2000
SUVA (PINA Nius Online, 12 December 2000): A New Zealander working at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, criticised Fiji news media organisations and journalists in a paper for a conference in Australia.
David Robie, coordinator of the USP journalism programme, includes a series of claims and allegations in his paper titled "Coup Coup Land: The Press and The Putsch in Fiji".
Robie alleged sectors of the media waged a "bitter campaign" against ousted Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his coalition government after their election last year.
Robie also questioned the professionalism of Fiji journalists and the news organisations they work for. He claimed:
Robie's paper was for an Australian and New Zealand Journalism Education Association conference at Mooloolaba Outrigger Resort, Queensland.
Three Fiji journalists on a training attachment at the University of Queensland attended the conference and during the weekend brought back news of Robie's paper.
Copies were being read by Fiji news media executives yesterday. At least one major Fiji news organisation is so angered by Robie's paper it is considering having no further contact with USP journalism programmes he is involved in.
According to Robie's paper, after the Chaudhry government's election Fiji's biggest-selling newspaper, the award-winning Fiji Times, appeared to wage a relentless campaign against it. This was done both through editorials and "slanted" news coverage, the Robie paper claimed.
"In spite of its claims to the contrary, that it treated all governments of the day similarly, the newspaper was 'blatantly antagonistic'," the Robie paper claimed.
The Fiji Times reporting was spearheaded by a journalist with close ties with "opposition radical indigenous nationalists", he also claimed.
(Robie does not mention that the Fiji Times is a winner of the Pacific Islands News Association's Pacific Freedom of Information award. It has been praised by PINA judges for its strong defence of the right of the people of Fiji to be fully informed.)
Robie also claimed:
Robie, however, had praise for Pacific Journalism Online, the USP journalism programme website which he created and coordinates.
"While it provided a comprehensive overall coverage its major strength, compared with other news sources, was its incisive analysis and 'colour' pieces about the impact of the crisis on the people and human rights," Robie claimed.
DR MARK HAYES ON THE CONTROVERSY
MEDIA RELEASE: 13 December 2000
"I fail to see what the controversy over Mr David Robie's paper on media reporting of the Fiji coup is all about," USP Journalism Lecturer Dr Mark Hayes said late on Wednesday afternoon.
"On my reading, David's paper was an entirely professional example of the kind of journalism scholarship any university would be proud to be producing. It was extremely well researched, locating the evidence for the critique in primary source materials - published and broadcast media reports - plus original interviews with reputable commentators on the Fiji situation," Dr Hayes said.
"There are generally acknowledged international standards of professional journalism," Dr Hayes said. "Though these must be carefully and sensitively amended to take account of particular circumstances, it is entirely fair and reasonable for scholars like David and myself to reflectively critique the work of journalists by applying those standards. In addition, because we're also journalists ourselves, we bring the combined insights of years of practical experience plus our academic knowledge to bear to inform our scholarship," Dr Hayes said.
"That's no more or less than David Robie did in his paper presented to a regional academic conference attended by our professional colleagues and peers," Dr Hayes said. "That's what academics and journalists like us do: participate in peer reviewed and peer attending conferences to present the fruits of our and our students work and research and subject it to rigorous scrutiny."
"The quality of the teaching and student's efforts at USP was amply recognised by the major award USP Journalism's Pacific Journalism On Line web site won at the Journalism Education Association Conference," Dr Hayes said.
"David's paper was received with considerable interest, but none of the severe criticism it has subsequently received in Fiji," Dr Hayes said. "In the audience to hear his presentation were a number of regional journalists, as well as conference delegates very well aware of the media landscape of Fiji."
"So I completely fail to understand why some media executives locally have expressed such strong and, to my mind, unjustified and indeed illinformed criticisms of what I take to be a very sound contribution to regional and indeed international journalism scholarship," Dr Hayes said.
Dr Mark Hayes, 44, is an Australian journalist and journalism educator with over 20 years experience in commercial, ABC, and community journalism in radio, television, and on-line environments.
He holds degrees from Queensland, Bradford, and Griffith Universities. At USP, he lectures in television, radio, and on-line journalism, and in media law and ethics.
ROBIE ANSWERS CRITICS
Daily Post, 15 December 2000
University of the South Pacific journalism coordinator David Robie yesterday countered angry comments from media executives about his controversial interpretation of local journalists' coverage of the May 19 coup.
Mr Robie said the contents of the paper he presented in Australia last week described the type of misreporting that went on prior to the Parliament takeover when the Coalition government was in power.
Also included were the professional and ethical dilemmas during the hostage crisis and the challenges that lay ahead for the Fiji media.
He said media executives were not honest with themselves if they could not constructively handle ethical issues in covering major crises.
"All over the world< media debates of this kind are normal and crucial to the raising of professional standards," he said.
USP journalism lecturer Dr Mark Hayes told the Daily Post he failed to see what the controversy was about, saying Mr Robie's paper received considerable interest among regional journalists and conference delegates who were "aware of the media landscape of Fiji".
THE ROBIE REPORT COMMENDED
Letter in the Fiji Sun, 16 December 2000; Daily Post, 17 December 2000.
I would like to commend the University of the South Pacific journalism coordinator David Robie for his thorough and accurate report on the coverage of the May 19 coup by our local media.
The angry responses from media executives are unnecessary and display a lack of positive mentality, or eagerness on their part to face and fix the discrepancies within their organisations.
One cannot deny observing the gross misreporting showered over the country after the May 1999 elections.
The strong demand by the government of the day, for locals to fill executive positions within the media organisations, seemed to be the catalyst for the whole trend of anti-People's Coalition stand taken by the media.
Furthermore, media personnel were seen openly supporting those guilty of kidnapping and committing other serious crimes during the whole saga.
The message relayed by the media was clear - anything but the People's Coalition.
The country should be thankful that people like Mr Robie are still around. They are essential to halt the degrading standards of our media's reporting motives.
After all, while the pen is mightier [than the sword], it will only bring chaos if the mind of the holder is not right.
Swadesh B. Singh
FURIOUS ROW AS ACADEMIC SUGGESTS FIJI'S MEDIA HELPED CAUSE A COUP
by Michael Field
AUCKLAND, Dec 17 (AFP) - A row has broken out in Fiji over claims the news media may have helped cause the coup which bought down the country's government in May.
As befits a small country, it quickly turned nasty, pitting David Robie, head of the University of the South Pacific's journalism programme, against the lively local media headed by the Rupert Murdoch owned Fiji Times.
On May 19 plotters led by George Speight seized Parliament and held the government hostage for 58 days and only freed them after the government had been deposed by the military.
Unlike the 1987 coups in Fiji, the media this time had no controls imposed on them and even had full access to Speight and Parliament the whole time he held hostages.
Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, had held office for just a year, marked by bad media relations.
It climaxed in October 1999 when Chaudhry asked whether the Times was "carrying the torch for people engaged in seditious activities?
"The newspaper needs to take a serious look at where it is headed. Is it not fanning the fires of sedition and communalism by giving undue prominence to stories that are really non-stories?"
Robie, a journalist originally from New Zealand, in a just published academic paper, said some sectors of the Fiji media waged a bitter campaign against the administration and its rollback of privatisation.
Chaudhry got off on the wrong foot with the media industry virtually from the day he took office, Robie says, appointing his son private secretary in a move that damaged his credibility.
But the Fiji Times "appeared to wage a relentless campaign against the fledgling government, both through its editorials and 'slanted" news columns".
Political commentator Jone Dakuvula, a member of former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka's Soqosoqo Ni Vakavulewa Ni Taukei party is quoted saying the Times was "blatantly antagonistic to the Government and focused on highlighting allegations of corruption, nepotism and sexual indiscretions" against Chaudhry.
Robie says no journalist seriously analysed the party's manifesto in order to help public understanding of what the government had pledged to do.
"The evidence suggests that The Fiji Times, in particular, had a hostile editorial stance towards the Chaudhry Government.... The focus of news media coverage, particularly the Fiji Times, after the election was to play up conflict.... It tended to play to the agenda of politicians who wanted to inflame indigenous Fijians against the government."
Fiji Times publisher Alan Robinson says Robie's paper was academically and professionally dishonest.
"Out of the 106 editorials we ran on the Coalition Government, 54 were in favour and 52 against," he said.
Of the coup itself, Robie said the media "offered Speight a profile and credibility - it aided the rebel leader's propaganda war. "The media, in fact, fuelled the crisis and gave Speight a false idea about his importance and support - it gave him 'political fuel'."
Radio FM96 boss and the head of the Pacific Islands News Association, William Parkinson, accused Robie of "self aggrandisement".
Parkinson said the relationship pre-coup with Chaudhry had been an unfortunate one.
"But that was no fault of the media but the fault of the members of the Government who did such an abysmal job of getting their message across and then tried to bully and threaten the media when they held them accountable," Parkinson said.
FM96 news editor Vijay Narayan said he found Robie's paper offensive.
"We found it was our duty, whoever was in government, to report on whatever promises were being made. George Speight was part of the story. We had to have someone there to find out what was going on."
Jale Moala, who was editor of the Daily Post at the time of the coup, noted the argument that the coup situation "may not have deteriorated as quickly as it did if the media had played a more responsible role."
It underlined the dilemma of Pacific journalism: "People and events are usually so closely interwoven and related, they can affect the reporting."
FIJI TIMES DRAWS FLAK FOR 'BIASED' CAMPAIGN
Times of India, 19 December 2000
SUVA: The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times newspaper came under fire over the weekend for allegedly waging a "bitter campaign" against ousted prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and the People's Coalition government after their election last year.
Journalism lecturer David Robie made the attack at a media conference in Mooloolaba, Australia.
Robie, a New Zealander, circulated a paper titled "Coup Coup Land: The Press and the Putsch in Fiji," in which he questioned the professionalism of Fiji journalists and the news organizations the worked for.
He claimed some female journalists practiced skirt journalism to the point of being sexually involved with politicians in order to get information.
The writings and editorial slant were frequently based on the journalist's race and personal political opinions, added Robie, the head of the USP's journalism school.
The Fiji Times, he said, raged a relentless campaign against the Chaudhry government not long after its election in 1999.
"In spite of its claims to the contrary, that it treated all governments of the day similarly, the newspaper was blatantly agonistic," Robie claimed, adding that the "newspaper's reporting was spearheaded by a journalist with close ties with opposition indigenous nationalists."
He also hit out at what he said was an unusually close relationship the media enjoyed with coup leader George Speight and the hostage takers in the early weeks of the May 19 coup, saying it raised serious ethical questions.
There were no immediate comments front he management of the Fiji Times.
The 120-year old newspaper is the largest selling daily and most profitable media organization in Fiji. (India Abroad News Service)
USP STAFF SUPPORT DAVID ROBIE
Association of the University of the South Pacific Staff , 21 December 2000
I am aware of the media campaign to discredit Mr David Robie and the Journalism Programme at USP. At the moment the Association of University of the South Pacific Staff is not concerned with the contents of Mr. David Robie's paper, but more on the campaign to curb academic freedom of a staff member who has presented a paper to a conference and has given his opinion and views on a number of issues relating to the role of media in the Fiji crisis.
The AUSPS believes that Mr Robie is being unneccessarily defamed and together with him some elements of the Fiji media are trying to discredit the journalism programme at USP. AUSPS knows that the journalism programme is a popular programme and has attracted widespread acclaim under Mr. Robie's leadership. We believe that Mr. Robie is only doing his work as an academic and its becomes the university's responsibility to defend him and the programme from unnecessary comments from some elements of the media.
I am sure that you will defend Mr. Robie's right to speak as an academic and if the Fiji media disagrees with him then it should be debated publicly and David's paper should be given coverage by the media and not only their criticism of the paper.
The AUSPS will be closely following the developments and further comments from the Fiji media.
Dr Biman Prasad
Association University of the South Pacific Staff
ACADEMIC STAFF THROW SUPPORT BEHIND JOURNALISM HEAD
The Academic Staff Association at the University of the South Pacific has thrown its support behind the head of the university's journalism course, David Robie, whose latest clash with sections of the Fiji media has led to a call for his dismissal.
Sean Dorney reports that the Staff Association alleges that several news organisaitons in Fiji are waging an orchestrated campaign against Mr Robie.
In an academic paper delivered to a conference in Queensland earlier this month, David Robie criticised most of the regular Fiji media contrasting their coverage of the coup unfavourably with the work of his students claiming that one major strength of his journalism training website was what he called its incisive analysis. His attack on the Fiji Times for its alleged slanted news and bias against the Chaudhry Government prompted the Fiji Times to write to the Vice Chancellor accusing Robie of self-promotion and academic dishonesty. The Staff Association's spokesman, Professor Scott MacWilliam, says the issue is one of academic freedom. He says that at a meeting on campus, the Vice Chancellor, Esekia Solofa, has supported that principle and defended Mr Robie's competence and integrity. Prof MacWilliam says Mr Robie is entitled to express his views of the role of the media and the association rejects any call for his sacking.
QARASE SAYS JOURNALISTS LACK KNOWLEDGE AND CAN'T COMMUNICATE
Elected Fiji Government websiteIssue No: 408 24 January 2001
Qarase's speech reports on Fiji Government Online
SUVA: Regime Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase charges that Fiji's reporters are of poor quality and ignorant of current affairs.
In a speech launching a regional magazine, Qarase stated: "They [reporters] are uncertain interviewers, poor verbal communicators, have problems with accuracy and are short on knowledge of current affairs". The result of this, he asserted, is that coverage "sometimes compromise the ideals of a free press".
Qarase also expressed concern at the bias in news reporting: "Too often news reportage is coloured by a degree of bias reflecting a journalistıs own preconceived ideas or sympathies. These shortcomings are particularly evident in the coverage of the important and racially sensitive issue of land and agricultural leases".
The media industry has not responded to Qarase's criticisms of the entire cadre of journalists in Fiji. This is unlike the war which the media had launched against the elected Prime Ministerıs condemnation of the reporting of a few named journalists in 1999.
Ironically, the criticisms echo the analysis contained in an academic paper by David Robie, which the Fiji Times and PINA had bitterly criticised. The Fiji Times had even gone to the extent of writing to the University of the South Pacific, Robie's employer, suggesting that it sack Robie. One academic from the USP commented: "Perhaps the Fiji Times will now write to the President asking him to sack Qarase for maligning journalists".
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