Guest Post: How a conceited NZ Media failed their PM, John Key, on Fiji visit

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by Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the NZ Airforce Hercules eased into a very warm Nausori Airport in Fiji with its Prime Minister John Key, Frank Bainimarama, stood tall at the tarmac, with his head held high on 9 June, 2016.

He has effectively passed a message to Australia, as well as New Zealand that he could survive without their support. So, he did. In response, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been expedient to play by the new rules: “It’s time to put the past behind us and move forward.”  Indeed, NZ needs Fiji’s support and vote for Helen Clark to be the next Secretary General of United Nations.

Professor Robbie Robertson from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne summed it well when he spoke about NZ and Australia’s attempt at punishing Fiji and freezing it out of regional blocs. “They assumed in the past they could pressure Fiji and bring it to its knees,” says Swinburne’s Robbie Robertson. “They failed.”

So did the New Zealand media. This was an opportunity for them to appreciate and understand Fiji. But sections of a White Kiwi media has been conceited and vindictive, hence they wasted this chance. And in doing so they did not hurt Bainimarama, but, and let down their own PM, and contributed to him losing face amongst Kiwis back home. The reaction of New Zealand media to Bainimarama’s 2,400 word speech was only confined to some ten percent of that speech which kicked the butt of a wanting NZ media.  “……there appears to be a substantial body of opinion in New Zealand – led by your generally hostile media – that what has happened in Fiji somehow lacks legitimacy. That somehow, I lack legitimacy and my government lacks legitimacy. This is simply not borne out by the facts. We have moved on but it would appear that the New Zealand media has not.”

On the media ban on journalists, the Fijian PM said that no one who reported on events in Fiji fairly and in a balanced manner was excluded. While accepting fair criticism, Bainimarama said he “cannot allow the wilful propagation of false information that damages the national interest and undermines our vulnerable economy.” He effectively told NZ media owners to send someone who respected the facts and the right of people to know the truth, and not some twisted concoction.  

Unfortunately, the NZ media played exactly the same way Fiji PM had accused them of. Bainimarama’s information-packed speech with essential pertinent facts about Fiji were ignored. It appeared  the NZ media was running around like chooks with their heads cut off, and wailing that they have been kicked in the butt by the leader of a Third World Country. They never covered the other facts that Kiwis needed to know.

This irony was not lost on NZ Herald readers who expressed their feelings in the letters column. One Robin Osborne wrote:” I note with wry amusement the only subject of importance apparently raised at the PM’s visit to Fiji was the return of various media reporters.”  One Grant Anderson raised very pertinent issues that bugged great number of people: “It was disappointing to see that the media coverage on Mr. Key’s visit to Fiji focussed on how Fiji treats some New Zealand reporters rather than other very important issues relating to Fiji and NZ mutually, like Fiji support for Helen Clark and so on.”  In fact TVNZ’s weather reporter who was hosted by Tourism Fiji recently reported from resorts in Fiji. He told more about Fiji than the hordes of reporters covering Key’s Fiji visit.

Perhaps, Professor David Robie, who specialises in Pacific reporting, need to take these reporters for a refresher course at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT’s) Media and Communications department and train them how to communicate what they missed from Bainimarama’s other 90 per cent of the speech. Anglo Saxons (Europeans) just naturally do not happen to be better journalists than home-grown Fijian journalists.

The Fijian PM informed an ignorant NZ media that ten years ago, some Fijians were more equal than others, their votes carried more weight than others and they enjoyed a range of privileges that others didn’t share, such as employment etc.

He also said when Helen Clark visited Fiji ten years ago, there was no common name or identity. The term Fijian – an English word – was reserved for one ethnic group only. He informed us that the Qarase regime wanted to introduce an equivalent of the Foreshore and Seabed Act that NZ has soundly rejected. It would have undermined Fiji’s tourism industry and turned Fiji into an economic basket case. He said ten years ago, the then government wanted to introduce a reconciliation bill that would have effectively freed those responsible for bringing our nation to its knees in the rebellion of 2000 and the subsequent mutiny in the military.

To stop the racial seed germinating to destroy the nation, action had to be taken. The same elites responsible for the 1987 and 2000 political instability were posing another grave threat to national unity.  And so Bainimarama embarked on a revolution to create Year Zero in Fiji. This was to grant every citizen of Fiji a common name, equality and social justice and to move the country forward as one nation, one people.

James Batley was the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji when he was suddenly expelled from the country in 2009 as Bainimarama set out to prove his country’s sovereignty. He still hasn’t been allowed back but has told Pasifik News that Fiji’s new democracy is a work in progress. “I think there’s always been a view in Australian circles that it was unrealistic for Fiji just to flick a switch from an unelected government under Frank Bainimarama to a fully functional democracy straight after the elections,” he says.

It appeared that this sacked diplomat with a black ban has better appreciation of a Third World Developing country. That appeared to be drastically lacking in NZ journalists who were trying to view a Third World democracy with a First World tinted glasses. They still tend to believe that a mere switch on of a button would make everything well in Fiji. They believe they are smart, yet they are so naïve. In fact it appears some may still believe we wear grass skirts in Fiji. Bainimarama asked the NZ Government for genuine cooperation and understanding. He pleaded to Key and his Government to work with Fiji to create a better framework in which to conduct its affairs, which was less prescriptive, more consultative, with better appreciation of the challenges Fiji faced.

Bainimarama told Key what the NZ media failed to hear. “We are not New Zealand. We have different challenges and priorities. We are not the New Zealand democracy. Evolved and robust. We are the Fijian democracy. Finally genuine yet still in its relative infancy and with institutions that need to be strengthened. And we are not the New Zealand economy. Our economy needs to have its fundamentals protected and strengthened to empower all Fijians,.” he told Key. A lackadaisical and apathetic NZ media, completely failed to understand and broadcast this intelligence and plea from Fijian PM.

He appealed NZ to work with Fiji to build those institutions, strengthen its democracy, work with Fiji to improve the lives of Fijians, and help build strong institutions without political bias or interference and help. He pleaded NZ to work with Fiji in a collaborative manner.

Frank Bainimarama concluded: “Prime Minister, a great partnership is possible, one based on mutual confidence and trust. So I look forward to our talks … welcome to Fiji. It’s been a long time between drinks, as they say – 10 years since we last had a New Zealand Prime Minister here, even though we now welcome over 100,000 Kiwis every year. We hope that like them, Fiji will be where happiness finds you. …”

So, where was the hostility that NZ media reported? Why was it a lost cause for Key? Bainimarama was indeed true in saying that NZ media is very wanting, and always looks to find scandals when it came to Fiji. They failed to report all that which is reported here by an unemployed ethnic journalist in New Zealand. With what is reported here and by blog FIJI PUNDIT, how come sections of NZ media report Key’s trip as a disaster? They indeed deserved that rebuke.

So, if they felt that Bainimarama kicked them in the butt, they fully deserved it. But what was more revealing was that it was John Key’s own White Kiwi media which failed to report on what was achieved, reported negatively, and in doing so, kicked in the butt of NZ PM. The trip was not a disaster. If you understand Bainimarama’s speech, it was NZ media which failed, and was a disaster on Key’s Fiji visit.

They say, karma is a bitch.  Sections of NZ media which thinks they are too White showed their dark side in Fiji. Thank God, I am still an “unemployed” ethnic journalist in New Zealand.

About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the principal of blog FIJI PUNDIT and Indian Media Watch New Zealand in Auckland. He has a postgraduate qualification in journalism (with honours) from Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) and is a former media personality from Fiji. He is a media commentator, specialising in social media, Fiji and local ethnic issues.


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