Archive: Coup coup land: The press and the putsch in Fiji


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By David Robie

Abstract: On 19 May 2000, an insurrection led by failed businessman George Speight and seven renegade members of the élite 1st Meridian Squadron special forces engulfed the Fiji Islands in turmoil for the next three months. Speight and his armed co-conspirators stormed Parliament and seized the Labour-led Mahendra Chaudhry government hostage for 56 days. On Chaudhry’s release from captivity, he partly blamed the media for the overthrow of his government. Some sectors of the media were accused of waging a bitter campaign against the Fiji Labour Party-led administration and its rollback of privatisation. In the early weeks of the insurrection, the media enjoyed an unusually close relationship with Speight and the hostage-takers, raising ethical questions. Dilemmas faced by Fiji and foreign journalists were more complex than during the 1987 military coups. As Fiji faces a fresh general election in August 2001, this article examines the reportage of the Coalition government’s year in office, media issues over coverage of the putsch, and a controversy over the author’s analysis presented at a Journalism Education Association (JEA) conference in Australia.

THE GOVERNMENT of kidnapped Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s only Indo-Fijian prime minister in thirty years of independence, achieved economic success in its one year in office. Indo-Fijians make up a minority 44 percent of the island nation’s 800,000 population. But on Friday, 19 May 2000, failed businessman and kailoma (part-Fijian) George Speight, along with seven renegade soldiers from the élite 1st Meridian Squadron forces stormed Parliament and took the Chaudhry government hostage in the name of “indigenous Fijian supremacy”. “We’re not going to apologise to anybody and we’re not going to step back, and we’re not going to be daunted by accusations of racism, or one-sidedness,” Speight declared. “At the end of the day, it is about the supreme rights of our indigenous people in Fiji, the desire that it be returned — wholesome and preserved for the future.” (Robie, 2000a: 19)

Many of Speight’s group, like their leader, had dubious reputations:only five days before the coup, Speight appeared in Suva’s High Court on charges of extortion. He also had a grievance against Chaudhry’s government for his dismissal as chief executive from Fiji Hardwood Corporation Ltd, and also from Fiji Pine Ltd. Chiefly associates stood to lose lucrative timber deals if Chaudhry had remained in office.

However, Speight essentially achieved his aims, before releasing his key hostages: purported abrogation of the multiracial 1997 Constitution, written after the coup of 1987 and replacing the 1990 Constitution which enshrined “Fijian paramountcy” (but kept Fiji excluded from the Commonwealth); the de facto resignation of the 80-year-old President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara; a non-elected indigenous administration; and an amnesty for the kidnappers. (The core group was later charged with treason, a capital offence in Fiji). Meanwhile, the country was plunged into economic chaos.

A year after the attempted coup, a military installed interim régime declared illegal by the Fiji Court of Appeal on 1 March 2001 had been reinstated by President Josefa Iloilo as a caretaker government to steer the country uncertainly towards a general election on August 26; hundreds of impoverished families were “living in atrocious conditions … because of the madcap escapades of George Speight and his goons” (Turaga, 2001); preliminary treason court hearings had been opened against 12 alleged plotters; and Suva newspaper retrospectives were reluctant to look too closely at controversy over the media’s performance during the crisis.

The cover of the "coup coup land: The press and the putsch" article edition
The cover of the “coup coup land: The press and the putsch” article edition of Asia Pacific Media Educator, 2001.

When Chaudhry was released from captivity on July 14, he partly blamed the media for the overthrow of his government (Fiji One News, 2000). Some sectors of the media were alleged to have waged a bitter campaign against the People’s Coalition Government and its rollback of privatisation in the year after the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition had been elected in a landslide victory in May 1999 (Pacific Journalism Review, 2000: 134-164). In the early weeks of the insurrection, the media enjoyed an unusually close relationship with Speight and the hostage-takers, raising ethical questions (see Field; Parkinson; Robie,2000b).

This article examines the media controversy leading up to the putsch, the coverage of the crisis itself and analyses the role of the media as a factor in the upheaval. It also considers political sympathies of journalists, news organisations, and a hostile response from some media industry executives in Fiji to an earlier version of this article delivered at the Journalism Education Association (JEA) conference at Mooloolaba, Queensland, in December.

Fiji Islands and the media
Fiji has a highly developed media industry compared with most other Pacific countries. Until 2000, it had four major monthly or bimonthly news magazine groups, Islands Business International, Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) (Murdoch), The Review and Fiji First (both locally owned). However, Fiji First faded from the public eye and PIM, the region’s oldest and for many years the most influential magazine, announced its closure a month after the putsch. Islands Business was relaunched as the southern edition of Pacific Magazine in January 2000 after a merger with the Hawai’i-based publisher, Pacific Basin Communications. The three daily newspapers are the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times (circulation reportedly up to 55,000 during the Fiji crisis but usually around 32,000 week days) and the struggling Fiji government-owned Daily Post, with a third daily, The Sun, which was launched in September 1999. (The Sun is owned by a consortium of Indo-Fijian importers, C J Patel and Co Ltd and Vinod Patel and Co Ltd, and the flagship company of Fiji’s caretaker régime, Fijian Holdings Ltd.) The two smaller dailies do not have independently audited sales, but are both believed to sell around 6000 copies a day. Broadcasters are Fiji Television Ltd, which has one free-to-air channel and two pay channels; the private Communications Fiji Ltd (FM96) radio group; and the state-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation. The Daily Post and The Review news magazine share a website, FijiLive, while The Fiji Times is hosted at FM96’s Fiji Village website.

On 15 May 1987, Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka’s régime ordered both newspapers, The Fiji Times and the original Fiji Sun, to stop publishing indefinitely while armed troops and police occupied the two offices. The next day, May 16, became the first time (apart from once during a hurricane in January 1986) in more than a century that The Fiji Times was not published. The military régime began a purge of political critics and opponents by arresting them without charge. The Fiji Sun, jointly owned by the Hongkong-based Sally Aw Sian publishing empire and New Zealand publisher Philip Harkness, eventually closed
rather than publish under self-censorship restrictions.

There was an exodus of experienced journalists from Fiji after the Rabuka coups. At the start of the Speight attempted coup, the bulk of Fiji journalists were young, relatively untrained and with limited experience. The median age of journalists was 22 with a large bulge in the 21-25 age group. Almost half of Fiji journalists (47 percent) had no professional or educational qualifications at all, and the median experience was 2.5 years. (Robie, 1999a)

Chaudhry and the media
In May 1999, the Fiji Labour Party won the largest electoral mandate since the country became independent in 1970. After more than a decade as an opposition leader and robust trade union leader, and a seemingly good working relationship with journalists, Mahendra Chaudhry got off on the wrong foot with the media industry virtually from the day he took office. The appointment of his son, Rajendra, as his Private Secretary deeply damaged his credibility with the media and the public. Political commentator Jone Dakuvula observes that the Coalition government was on the defensive from day one: “There was no honeymoon period” (Dakuvula, 2000a). But Chaudhry and the People’s Coalition had the most concern over The Fiji Times, arguably the country’s most influential news organisation. Over the next few months, The Fiji Times appeared to wage a campaign against the fledgling government. According to deposed National Planning Minister Dr Ganesh Chand, an economist and former academic at the University of the South Pacific:

One of their lines was that we were not delivering our manifesto immediately; numerous editorials were written on this, and the general tenor of the articles, the locations, the pictures, focus, and most of all, the inaccuracies, all were anti-government. I complained to the [Fiji], Media Council (1) numerous times and judgements against The Fiji Times began coming out. (Chand, 2000.)

According to researcher Nwomye Obini of USP’s Department ofDevelopment Studies, who conducted a content analysis of Fiji Times coverage on the Chaudhry government’s year in office and the coup, the newspaper “bombarded” the prime minister with problems in both editorials and news reports in contrast to previous governments (Obini, 2000).

As the date of the coup approached, the tension grew day by day. Nurses kept making threats, and finally went on strike on May 12, a week before the coup … A rift was even reported between the Commissioner of Police and the Prime Minister. (Ibid.: 15)

Michael Field, a veteran Pacific Affairs reporter for Agence France-Presse news agency, considers several events were covered with a “fixed” approach which encouraged an unfairly negative impression of the Coalition.

One was the infamous tea lady incident which helped create an air, I suppose, of corruption or immorality in the newly elected government. My own view of this was that it was something of a setup job in which the media went along for the ride, and may have, in the longer run, helped to destabilise the government . . . (Field, 2000a)

Field also makes the point that the election result was “remarkably clear but the media, or elements of it, were reluctant to accept it”. Some sections of the media were in his view “arrogantly anti-democratic”. Also, some of the journalistic decision-making was personal. Dakuvula regards The Fiji Times as an example of a newspaper which was “blatantly antagonistic” towards the government:

The agenda of The Fiji Times was to delegitimise the elected government by creating a climate of scandal, loathing and fear so the Fiji Labour Party, at least, would not be able to effectively implement its manifesto. (Dakuvula, 2000b)

Part of the blame lay with the Coalition government itself. There was no evidence that the administration tried to develop a media strategy to establish positive relationships with journalists and use contemporary “spin” techniques to sell its reforms to the public. But sociologist Dr Sitiveni Ratuva argues that the Chaudhry government’s poor relationship with the media was a weakness shared with the previous Rabuka administration.

Both governments had information ministers who did not know how to handle public relations matters, especially how to deal with the media. They were both confrontational. The media’s response also took the same line — confrontational. The media portrayed Rabuka and company as corrupt and inefficient and Chaudhry as arrogant and anti-Fijian. (Ratuva, 2000)

According to Ratuva, the portrayal of Chaudhry basically fed into the rising tide of ethno-nationalist mobilisation. Although the media did not create the conditions for the ethno-nationalist upsurge, it did provide the nationalists with the “legitimacy” to roll on. For media analyst Pramila Devi, this was nothing new. In a paper almost a decadee arlier, analysing the 1992 general election campaign, she had found both The Fiji Times and the Daily Post practised “self-censorship” with a “bias towards a certain ideology”:

It is the same ideology that is shared by the [Great] Council of Chiefs, the military, the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) and large segments of the ethnic Fijian population. That putting this ideology in practice relegates half of Fiji’s population to a third-class citizenry did not matter. (Devi, 1992: 35)

Decisions by the Chaudhry government not to renew the work permit for reappointed Fiji Times editor-in-chief, Russell Hunter, a former senior journalist on The Australian, and to block Canadian Ken Clark’s work permit after he was appointed chief executive of Fiji Television Ltd — both cases leading to legal action — alienated the media from government (2). Another important factor was the commercial interests of large businesses, major advertisers and corporate opponents of the Coalition government’s efforts at rolling back the privatisation policies adopted by the Rabuka government.

As the Government’s relationship soured further, “payback” time finally came for the press. Chaudhry chose an invitation by the Media Council to launch the Fiji General Media Code of Ethics and Practice on 26 October 1999 to deliver an extraordinary speech damning the Fiji news media generally, singling out three media organisations and prominent individual journalists.

Chaudhry indicated that his government was considering establishing a “swift justice” media tribunal to provide remedies in defamation cases. Moves were also considered to licence foreign-owned media with an annual fee of $20,000. (The Sun, 1999a)

The tribunal proposal, in particular, prompted Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) president William Parkinson to complain: “[Chaudhry’s] attacks against the media were draconian to say the least.We have not had those threats made since the military government in 1987” (Ibid.) Parkinson, managing director of Communications (Fiji) Ltd, owners of FM96 in Fiji and stakeholders in radio stations in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, said he was seriously concerned. Chaudhry questioned whether international media and local media were suffering a “crisis of ethics” and falling credibility.

When day after day a particular reporter writes nothing but anti-government stories with facts manipulated and distorted to discredit and embarrass the government, one is left in little doubt as to what the agenda of the particular reporter is. (Chaudhry, 1999)

Senior political reporter Margaret Wise, who has close links with the party founded by former coup leader and prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, Soqosoqo Ni Vakavulewa Ni Taukei (SVT), was clearly the journalist Chaudhry had in mind. He named her later in the speech. Wise has been publicly questioned over her style of journalism (see Robie, 1999c: 115), alleged partisan beliefs, accusations of “skirt journalism” tactics, and close ties with Rabuka. So-called skirt journalism was given public prominence by Weekend newspaper publisher Josefa Nata over a series of exposés about women in Rabuka’s life when another prominent journalist was named (3). Hinting that the newspaper could be breaching the Public Order Act, Chaudhry said:

The matter is even more serious than a breach of media ethics and my government is quite concerned at what is happening. Is The Fiji Times 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 (Chaudhry, 1999)

Reaction was confined to defensive statements from media industry people, but with no initial publication of the speech. Nor did the media canvas civil society opinions. The government responded to what it called “media hysteria” with eight-page advertisements— including the speech — in both The Sun and Daily Post, costing $16,000 at taxpayers’ expense. (Fiji Sun, 2000). The Fiji Times voluntarily published Chaudhry’s speech after four days and responded with a two-page editorial. Describing the speech as a “rambling diatribe riddled with contradictions, half truths and untruths,” the editorial added:

Chaudhry has been escalating his attacks on the media — in particular the country’s most successful news organisation, The Fiji Times — in an effort to create a climate in which the public would besoftened up for his draconian legislation. (Fiji Times, 1999)

However, the self-interest of media responses did not go unnoticed by the president of the Fiji chapter of Transparency International, Ikbal Jannif: “It seems to me that media wants accountability — for everyone except itself.” (Jannif, 1999: 164).

The coup coverage
After putschist Speight and his gunmen kidnapped the Coalition government, it was astonishing how “captive the journalists were to Speight” (see Robie, 2000b, 2000d; Parkinson; Woodley; Field 2000b). In a sense they were hostages too, even providing a human shield at times of confrontation between the rebel group and the military at
checkpoints: “The media pack offered Speight a profile and credibility — it aided the rebel leader’s propaganda war.”

Even though essentially it was a struggle for power within the indigenous Fijian community, and a conflict between tradition and modernity, the inevitable polarisation of races undermined objectivity. It was apparent to then Daily Post editor Jale Moala that many local reporters had become “confused by the heightened emotion at the time, the use of emotive language and the pleadings of the opposing forces”, as they were drawn into different sides. (Moala, 2000) This, he recalls, was true of both indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian reporters.

Fear may have also played a role. As a result, the perpetrators of the terrorist action, led by George Speight, received publicity that at the time seemed to legitimise their actions and their existence. Some argued that the situation may not have deteriorated as quickly as it did if the media had played a more responsible role. But therein lies one of the dilemmas of Pacific Islands political journalism: the extended family system, the tribal and chiefly system and customary obligations may blur the view of the journalist, especially if he or she is indigenous. (Moala, 2001: 125-126)

Moala (Ibid.: 127) points to an example of a Fijian journalist falling foul of a high chief. Josefa Nata, an investigative journalist and journalism trainer who had “cut his teeth” at the original Fiji Sun newspaper, exposed the business dealings of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who at the time had been Fiji’s prime minister since independence from Britain in 1970. He was treated as an outcast. Nata later gained notoriety as Speight’s media spin doctor and is now on Nukulau prison isle awaiting trial for treason (4).

For Moala, lack of leadership in some newsrooms was a significant factor. Observed Michael Field: “I left [Fiji, after two months, and as the longest-serving foreign reporter] wondering how much of the coup and its twists and turns was the product of the media itself”. (Field, 2000c) International journalists highlighted the inexperience of some local journalists. According to The Australian’s Brian Woodley:

They got on with reporting the story, a corps of dedicated youngsters with hardly a gram of experience among them. Most are not long out of high school. (Woodley, 2000)

Indeed, there was a steep learning curve for Fiji journalists but with many showing remarkable courage and commitment. It was a harrowing and testing time for the country’s media — the dilemmas were far more complex than during the 1987 coups. Radio Fiji’s general manager (public broadcasting) Francis Herman said: “Our journalists have been threatened, abused, beaten, had stones thrown at them — it goes with the job”. (Herman, 2000) But it was also a time when professionalism needed to rise another notch. Moala considered some reporters stayed too long in the parliamentary complex, “making the outside world believe they were enjoying the hospitality of the terrorists and becoming too familiar with them” (Moala, 2001: 129)

At times, there was strong sympathy among some journalists for the “cause”, even among senior editorial executives. There was tension between the role of “objective” journalist and an instinctive feeling about what should happen in the country.

One of the news organisations that drafted a policy to cope with the crisis was the Daily Post. It covered the putsch with perhaps greater caution than some other local media. In the early stages, the newspaper established guidelines for reporters, photographers and subeditors. Along with the code, it sought greater emphasis on the “effects” of the crisis on the people and the economy and downplayed events inside the parliamentary complex. Guidelines were not formally written, in case they got into the hands of rebels and became a source of threats or reprisals as happened in the trashing of Fiji Television on 28 November 2000 (Robie 2000b: 8). The guidelines:

  1. The newspaper would not use the word “coup” in its coverage.
  2. The events of May 19 would be reported as a kidnapping and hostage crisis; George Speight was to be reported as either the leader of the kidnappers, the gunmen or the hostage takers, but never as “coup leader” to avoid giving him legitimacy in the minds of indigenous Fijians.
  3. The group who stormed Parliament were to be described as “gunmen”, “terrorists” and “kidnappers”.
  4. Use of photographs of George Speight and his supporters inside the parliamentary complex were to be restricted to avoid giving them too much publicity.
  5. George Speight was never to be described as a nationalist working for indigenous Fijian interests; he was to be reported as Suva businessman George Speight, leader of the kidnappers, or leader of the terrorists. (Moala, 2001: 131)

Some news media regularly switched reporters covering events inside the parliamentary complex to prevent them getting too close to the rebels. But in spite of precautions taken by news media groups to defend their integrity — FM96 ran editorial policy notices on air, effectively saying “trust us” — news media credibility was eroded. A senior executive and two news staff of Radio Fiji by the military were detained by the military on October 20 in an attempt to intimidate them into revealing their sources about a major split in the military. Although the highly sensitive news story itself was evidently wellsourced — demonstrated by a mutiny two weeks later on November 2, claiming the lives of eight soldiers — it lacked balance, such as official comment.

Deposed minister Dr Ganesh Chand accused The Fiji Times of destabilising the Coalition government during its one year in office before being ousted by “waging a war” through articles and the courts when the government refused to extend editor-in-chief Russell Hunter’s work permit; losing most complaints lodged by his government with the Fiji Media Council (1); of employing a senior journalist alleged to have close relationships with two prominent political personalities; and of its northern reporter “riding around with rebels” at Labasa on Vanua Levu Island. (Coalition, 2000) Publisher Alan Robinson described the attack as “grossly defamatory”, adding that the allegations “contained not the tiniest grain of truth”. (Fiji Times, 2000a) The following day, The Fiji Times published a front page story, alleging that police were investigating the “stripping” of government-owned furniture and other household goods from Chand’s state home. (Fiji Times, 2000b) Chand filed a defamation writ against the newspaper. (High Court, 2000) and the police investigation was dropped.

In another incident, two journalists based in Labasa were arrested. The Fiji Times and Radio Fiji’s northern correspondents were charged on November 13 with unlawful assembly and unlawful use of a motor vehicle over the seizure of a military barracks by rebels. (Pacific Media Watch, 2000). They were publicly defended by their editors, but it took almost six months before the charges were eventually withdrawn on May 11.

The media response
After this paper was originally presented at the JEA conference on December 6, a PINA Nius Online email report misrepresenting the paper was distributed to Pacific newspapers five days later, stirring up a “political storm” (see Café Pacific, 2001). A campaign of bitter personal attacks against the author followed on the JEANet and Penang Commonwealth editors email listserves over the next two weeks. A two-page article published in Pacific magazine presented the furore as a 12-round “boxing match” fought out on the internet, heavily slanted in favour of The Fiji Times and PINA (Pacific, 2001). The magazine cited a formal complaint by the newspaper’s expatriate publisher and editor-in-chief to the University of the South Pacific, alleging “manufactured ‘evidence’ to establish an erroneous conclusion” (rejected by the university). The magazine did not interview the author or seek a copy of the paper, nor did it canvas views of other media commentators supporting the analysis.

The author replied to the attacks in an interview with Myra Mortensen broadcast on Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat, saying it was an irony that news organisations claiming to support media freedom were trying to gag a journalism academic. (Radio Australia, 2000) New Zealand Herald columnist Gordon McLauchlan wrote that USP had courageously “upheld academic freedom and firmly opposed this deplorable attempt at censorship by journalists” (McLauchlan, 2001) Rejecting The Fiji Times criticisms and protesting against Pacific magazine’s misrepresentations, Association of University of the South Pacific Staff (AUSPS) spokesperson Associate Professor Scott MacWilliam said in a letter to the editor:

AUSPS is concerned that while The Fiji Times and other news organisations purport to support the freedom to express opinions, such opinions are only acceptable if they sustain the same organisations’ views of themselves. (MacWilliam, 2001)

While the author’s main arguments were never published in the Fiji media, other views of foreign journalists who do not live in Fiji but which supported The Fiji Times/PINA perspective were (see The Sun, 2001a, 2001b; Daily Post, 2001). Reprisals were threatened against the journalism programme at USP, but there is no evidence that students suffered from the controversy. USP journalism students had also covered the crisis, winning Ossie Awards for their efforts, and graduates are employed at 15 news organisations across the Pacific (Robie, 2000d)

On the anniversary of the attempted coup, Fiji newspapers were reluctant to debate the shortcomings of crisis coverage. In the only article published examining the media and the coup, The Sun’s Samisoni Pareti cited two diplomats as supporting the view that coverage was “not that bad”. However, Mary-Louise O’Callaghan, writing in The Australian, had earlier questioned whether the local press should bear some of the responsibility for the political turmoil that had engulfed the South Pacific. (O’Callaghan, 2000) Remarked Michael Field in The Fiji Times: “The problem is that in Fiji there are more and more politicians, supported by a cabal in the local media that makes war on other reporters, who say they are not part of this world and wish to be left alone.” (Field, 2001)

The media climate after the general election in May 1999 arguably carried some responsibilty for misconceptions about the People’s Coalition Government in Fiji. No journalist seriously analysed the manifesto of the Fiji Labour Party in order to help public understanding of what the government had pledged to do. It had been the intention of the Coalition government to publish a special supplement in The Fiji Times marking its achievements after one year in office. However, the supplement, dated May 20, the day after the putsch took place, was dumped. The only serious analysis of the deposed government’s performance was written by Fiji Times features editor Bernadette Hussain and published in a USP journalism programme training newspaper (Wansolwara, 2000b) and matched by Agence France-Presse.

Hussain concluded that the Coalition government had been seriously misrepresented. Outlining many of the achievements — such as scholarships and an integrated village development project totalling F$12 million for affirmative action; reducing the cost of living for poor people of all races by removing customs duty and value added tax for essential food items such as rice, flour, cooking oil, tinned fish, powdered milk and tea; and increasing welfare allocations for the disadvantaged from F$3.3 million to $11 million — it was clear that the government was “genuinely concerned about the plight” of ordinary citizens. In the nine months since Hussain’s article, few journalists have attempted to analyse the privatisation policies reasserted by the Qarase government without a mandate. The best éxpose has been a 53-minute video documentary, In the Name of Growth, about the exploitation of indigenous women workers by an indigenous company, the PAFCO
tuna canning plant at Levuka. This was made by filmmaker ‘Atu Emberson-Bain, a deposed Labour senator and former USP academic. (Emberson-Bain, 2001)

Critics regard The Fiji Times, in particular, as having had a hostile editorial stance towards the Chaudhry Government. In spite of claims that it has treated all governments similarly, the newspaper is viewed by critics as antagonistic and arrogant. The focus of news media coverage after the election was to play up conflict. Politics were portrayed as an arena of conflict between the new multiracial reformist government and the conservative indigenous opposition. Coverage did not improve after the Qarase régime consolidated its hold on power. In contrast with media coverage after the 1987 coups, democratic values were not so vigorously defended.

While the news media was fairly diligent, and at times courageous when reporting hard news developments, and the views of prominent politicians, and political parties during the conflict, it was not so effective at covering civil society’s perspectives. Fiji lacks enough critically thinking journalists who can provide in-depth, perceptive and balanced articles and commentaries. Most serious commentaries and analysis during the crisis were provided by non-journalists.

The political scene in Fiji is still highly uncertain and there are confusing scenarios about the result of the forthcoming election, even rumours of a further coup should the Fiji Labour Party retain a majority. It is critical that the Fiji news media maintain independent coverage of political and socio-economic developments. But it is also equally vital that independent journalists, media commentators and academics sustain critical assessments of the role of the media in the wake of the putsch and in future nation-building.

1. Adjudications were made by the [Fiji] Media Council over three complaints
by Dr Chand against The Fiji Times and two against Fiji Television. In the case of the three complaints against The Fiji Times, No 90 on 11 November 1999 was upheld, No 101 (undated, 2000) partially upheld, and No 102 (undated, 2000) dismissed; however both complaints against Fiji Television (Nos 99 and 100, undated) were upheld.
2. Ken Clark was eventually granted a two-year work permit, although he was on a three-year contract; Russell Hunter returned to Fiji in August 2000 on a further three-year-contract after he appealed to the interim authorities.
3. The term “skirt journalism” in Fiji implies the use of sexual relations to gain privileged information from politicians. For other accounts of examples of alleged skirt journalism, see Jo Nata (1994), “Why we did not publish: The other woman”, The Weekender; “Rabuka and the Reporter,” Pacific Journalism Review (1994), 1 (1) 20-22; Jale Moala (2001). “Political reporting and editorial balance”, p 133, in David Robie (ed.), The Pacific Journalist: A Practical Guide.
4. Jo Nata is also former coordinator of the Fiji Journalism Institute, the training
arm of the Fiji Islands Media Association (FIMA), which has been defunct
since 1998 amid controversy over its donor-provided funds.

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— (2000b), “Taukei Takeover: The Media Anatomy of a Coup.” Australian Journalism Review, 22 (2) 1-16.
— (2000c), “Fiji coup: Why the media were also Speight’s hostages,” The Independent (NZ), July 12, p 16.
— (2000d), “Frontline Reporters: A Students’ Internet Coup”, paper presented at the JEA conference, Mooloolaba, Queensland, December 6.
The Fiji Times (1999), “The Fiji Times hits back”, October 30, republished in Pacific Journalism Review, 6(1):147-153.
The Fiji Times (2000a), “Chand blames Times for régime’s fall”, August 25, p 3.
The Fiji Times (2000b), “Chand faces theft probe”, August 26, p 3.
The Sun, (1999a), “Media under fire,” October 27, p 1.
The Sun (1999b), “Government responds to Media Hysteria (advertisement), October 30.
The Sun (2001a), “Dorney praises Fiji media”, March 5, p 3.
The Sun (2001b), “More praise for media’s coverage’, March 14, p 5.
Turaga, Mika (2001), “The faces of poverty after May 19”, Fiji Sun, May 19, p 25.
Wansolwara (2000a), “Journalists deny links with rebels,” September 2000, p 14.
Wansolwara (2000b), “The Coalition’s vision,” September, p 9.
Woodley, Brian (2000), “Courage under fire,” The Weekend Australian, Media section, June 8-14, p 6.

David Robie is senior lecturer and journalism coordinator of the University of the South Pacific, Fiji Islands. He covered the 1987 Fiji coups and his book covering this period was Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific (Zed Books, London, 1989). This article is republished from Asia Pacific Media Educator research journal. An earlier version was presented at the Journalism Education Association (JEA) conference,Mooloolaba, Queensland, 5-8 December 2000.

David Robie
David Robie
Dr David Robie was previously founding director and professor of journalism at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre (PMC). He worked with postgraduate student journalists to edit Pacific Media Watch - a daily digital archive of dispatches about Pacific journalism and media, ethics and professionalism. The PMC also jointly published the high profile independent Pacific Scoop news website with industry partner, Scoop Media, and Asia Pacific Report, which David now edits independently in partnership with Evening Report: David is also the founding editor of Pacific Journalism Review (PJR).
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