By Jeremy Rose
The Fijians have taken to calling them “parachute journalists”. The reporters, that is, who drop in from around the globe to file stories on the island nation’s latest coup.
Lacking local contacts, unable to speak Fijian and with only a flimsy grasp of an incredibly complex society, the journalists’ reports have, in general, been strong on atmosphere and weak on analysis.
That lack of local knowledge has seen too many foreign correspondents allow George Speight and his gunmen to successfully reduce the coup to an ethnic-Fijian vs Fiji-Indian power struggle.
In years gone by these “parachute journalists” would have provided most of us with our only contact with the ongoing crisis.
But the internet has changed all that. Sites such as FijiLive.com not only provide up-to-the-minute news items on the crisis, they carry in-depth pieces of analysis by people who know what they’re talking about.
People such as Victoria University’s Pacific studies lecturer Dr Teresia Teaiwa who wrote a penetrating piece towards the beginning of the crisis whuch convincingly argued that the “race card was misleading and mischievous”.
Dr Teaiwa, a former history and politics lecturer at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, also signalled the possible secession of Fiji’s western provinces as a result of the coup — something not picked up by the mainstream media for another 10 days.
Then there are pieces by people such as Professor Brij V Lal, a member of the commission that drew up the 1997 constitution. Professor Lal, Like Dr Teaiwa, argues that the coup has more to do with “the restructuring of power within indigenous Fijian society” than race.
Political commentator Jone Dakuvula writes movingly about visiting Mahendra Chaudhry’s wife, Virmati, at their home in Suva. He describes sitting around the kitchen table with both indigenous and Indian Fijians discussing the current crisis.
USP student journalism best
Some of the best reporting has come from the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme in Suva. The Journalism Programme’s website (www.usp.ac.fj/journ/) was a goldmine of information until it was shut down by the university . . . “for security reasons”.
The shutting down of the website followed its publication of a transcript of a television interview which was said to have led to the ransacking of Fiji Television by Speight supporters. The transcript would have been lost to cyberspace were it not for the quick work of Wellington’s Scoop (www.scoop.co.nz) which picked it up and republished it. It’s well worth a read.
Despite protests by the journalism programme coordinator David Robie that the closure of the site amounts to censorship, the university is sticking to its decision to close it down. It’s to be hoped that the work of the students finds its way into some of the other internet sites.
Jeremy Rose writes for City Voice, Wellington. This article was first published on 8 June 2000.