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“The open censorship of one, the hidden censorship of many” (edited version in The Fiji Times, 16 April 2016)

16/04/2016

Open censorship of one, hidden censorship of many

Just living in Australia for a few months and watching television, makes you see clearly, how the Fiji public is so badly denied by the poverty of Fiji media offerings and silent censorship

There are wonderful Australian media programs such as Q and A, Insiders, Catalyst, Landline, Insights, Foreign Correspondent, Four Corners, to name just a few, not even mentioning the many specials every week on ABC and SBS.

Just in the last two months alone, Landline explored how an Australian sugar cane farmer, successfully intercropped with rice, to pander to his Vietnamese wife.  Another intercropped with sunflowers for the seeds and oil, and mung beans (which Fiji farmers have also tried on a very small scale).

But what really stands out are the many robust public policy debating programs with sharp neutral hosts such as Q and A (Tony Jones) or Insider (Barry Cassidy) or Insights, where Opposition MPs or politically neutral commentators are given equal weight to that of Government voices.

Often, intelligent studio audiences are allowed to comment or give their verdict on particular utterances with applause or sceptical silence,

Of course, we all remember that once upon a time, Fiji television also had similar very robust programs, such as Close Up, but sadly, no more.

Despite the ending of open censorship by the government, an invidious silent self-censorship is denying the Fiji public access to “alternative voices”.

My personal individual experience of censorship by the premier university, by the Fiji media and by Fiji Bureau of Statistics is only the tip of the iceberg of a much wider “silent censorship of many” that is taking place in Fiji, without protest.

The one rare exception is The Fiji Times whose survival as an independent newspaper must be defended, or the public “won’t know what they have got, till it is gone”.

Open and hidden censorship

In the past, media censorship was quite easy to prove: censors were physically present in the newsrooms,  expatriate newspaper publishers were being expelled, large fines or jail terms were being handed down by courts, and ominous warnings were given to certain media organizations.

Today’s censorship is not obvious, simply because no journalist and media organisation or educational institution and academic, will publicly own up to “self-censorship”.

But it is abundantly clear that there is an loud absence of dissenting voices from forums such as Close Up, 4 The Record, Talk Business, and the many talk back shows on radio and TV.

My personal absence from these programs is noted by many just as it is obvious to go me, given my undoubted prominence in previous years.

But also absent from the Fiji media are other “dissenting” voices like Opposition Members of Parliament or critical NGO leaders, while voices sympathetic to government are given maximum exposure.

What is missing in government or public circles is any adherence to the dictum attributed to Voltaire (or Evelyn Beatrice Hall ) “I disagree with your views- and I will defend to death your right to express them”.

The one bright media light in Fiji, is The Fiji Times, which continues to serve the public as a channel for alternative views and as a proper watchdog on the government of the day, despite operating financially on a less than level playing field.

It saddens me that the Fiji  public continues to show total apathy to the censorship of individuals or blatant unfairness with taxpayers’ advertising funds shown to The Fiji Times, the proven most popular print media in Fiji.

Censorship from USP

This individual has been a senior USP economist, former parliamentarian and well known media commentator, yet there is no public comment on his continued censorship by the premier university.

The observant public have known, without any comment, that despite my three decades of service, USP asked me to resign in 2012, alleging financial pressure from the Bainimarama Government.

Then in 2013, USP refused to allow the Faculty of Business and Economics to host the launching of my FBS Report on the 2008-09 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, the 2008-09 Poverty Report, and the associated policy workshops for civil servants, NGOs and other stakeholders, which were eventually carried out in Suva, Labasa and Nadi (in co-operation with FNU).

In 2013, an invitation by USP Journalism Students Association to speak at USP for World Media Freedom Day was withdrawn on the orders of the vice chancellor.

This economist has been excluded from several panel discussions in his area of expertise, organized by USP departments, while expatriate professors (like Saunders and Robie) have been welcomed and given great publicity.

One Economics Department panel discussion on the Fiji Government’s reissue of a $500 million dollar bonds (to which I had been invited) was cancelled by the vice chancellor with no protest from the academics.

A Special Edition of the Journal of Pacific Studies on the 2014 Elections, excluded all writings by this academic (well known by the Special Editors), while pro-government non-academic outsiders were invited to contribute and did, uncritically.

I am not the only victim of USP’s censorship of dissident academics.  It is on record, that the most senior member bar one, of the university management was strongly warned not to associate socially with a particular Member of Parliament (and former USP academic) or even with one of his friends, also a very senior academic at USP.

Several senior USP academics, not personally in favour with the university management are deprived of even Acting Headships, despite their proven experience, while inappropriate sympathisers are appointed.

The USP staff association fails to defend members’ legitimate rights, while USP students have been actively threatened and discouraged from responsible political activity.

The once robust intellectual life at USP of both academics and students, has been severely eroded without any show of concern by the University Council or the academics or the students or the public.

Censorship by FBS

It is public knowledge that my FBS Report on the 2010-11 Employment and Unemployment Survey (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure) completed in 2013, has still not been published because of the refusal of Cabinet, now interfering for the first time ever, with the functions of the FBS.

This refusal to publish (also applied to other FBS Reports) denies the Fiji public essential and fascinating statistical results on gender gaps in employment, incomes, unpaid household work, and leisure activities like sports, kava drinking, watching television, and religious gatherings.

It is understandable that the FBS management cannot protest publicly, for fear of loss of their employment.

But sadly, neither has there been any public protest from university academics, or NGOs (like FWRM, WCC, CCF, Transparency International) or professional organizations like the Fiji Institute of Accountants or Fiji Law Society, or social and religious leaders, who all should be interested in the statistical findings that are being censored by this dictatorial Bainimarama Government.

The public will not know that while the FBS has completed a 2013-14 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, this data is being processed now with World Bank assistance, some selective poverty results have been presented to the public in a less than clear way, while a local academic who did this work with them for the last seven years, has been completely shut out.

The FBS, like many other government departments, is also undermining the national self-reliance that has been built up these last ten years, and resorting to expatriates once more, just as we see with expatriate Permanent Secretaries.

The public is reminded that objective and freely disseminated statistics from FBS is vital for sensible and timely public policy decisions.

Note that while the Report from the 2010-11 EUS has been supressed for three years, the FBS is in the process of conducting the next 2015-16 EUS, without the previous findings even being discussed.

The media censorship of one

After the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 Constitution, not just my articles but also many Letters to the Editor were not accepted for publication, by both Fiji Sun and Fiji Times., even when cc’d to the MIDA Chairman.

Media programs such as Close Up, 4 The Record and Talk Business, and the many radio talk-back shows, have declined to invite this economist, who used to be ever-present on their programs before 2009.  Some honestly admit that their jobs would be at stake.

On a rare positive note, just prior to the September 2014 Elections, the Fiji Times began to publish my Opinion pieces, but only after very costly and detailed vetting by its lawyers.

The Fiji public need to appreciate the Fiji Times owners (the Motibhai Patel family), the Fiji Times publisher (Hank Arts) and Editor (Fred Wesley) for their moral courage in producing a newspaper which remains the sole source of truly independent information in Fiji, and whose relative superiority has been independently verified by the Tebbutt Poll.

Lest we forget, in recent years, newspapers have been fined heavily, some expatriate publishers have been expelled, while editors have been given harsh jail sentences.

A recent decision by Government denying Fiji Times fair access to taxpayers’ advertising funds, also drew no public comment from MIDA, the Commerce Commission, the Fiji Chambers of Commerce, or professional organizations like the Fiji Institute of Accountants and Fiji Law Society, or NGOs (like FWRM, WCC, CCF, Transparency International)  or social leaders, who all should be interested in ensuring that there is a robust competitive media environment.

It is obvious that if the Fiji public do not rise out of their cowardly apathy to defend the legitimate rights of the Fiji Times to taxpayers’ advertising funds, then sadly, “the Fiji public won’t know what it has got, till it is gone”.

One day, they will also remember bitterly the words of Jawaharlal Nehru “Evil unchecked grows and evil tolerated poisons the whole system”.

Oppressed people do leave

As occurred after the 1987 and 2000 military coups, there is also today an emigration of many educated and skilled people.

Sadly, that category now includes me, even though no comfortable refuge abroad will ever be the “home” that Fiji has been and will always be in my heart.

[This will be my last article for the Fiji Times, as I pursue professional work in Australia. I thank Hank Arts (publisher), Fred Wesley (editor), Sailosi Batiratu, and the many other Fiji Times staff who have facilitated my media contributions over the years.  I also thank the Fiji Times readers who have expressed appreciation for my articles.

Professor Wadan Narsey
Adjunct Professor (James Cook University and Swinburne University).
Melbourne

 

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