Read, listen and judge for yourself.
Someone might like to suggest that Mz Vivien Mitchell pick up a good fiction novel instead. At least that way she can still (hopefully) know the difference between the real and the imagined.
Is the overseas media one-sided about Fiji?
Updated October 14, 2011 17:40:10
The way events in Fiji are portrayed in the overseas media has been criticised by some as one sided.
Recently we at Radio Australia received an e-mail from a listener in Fiji complaining that our coverage was giving a false impression of the country under the rule of the coup installed military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
That listener was Englishwoman Vivien Mitchell, who is retired from running her own business in Fiji for many years and who now lives on the south coast of the main island, Viti Levu.
So I invited her to come on the program to discuss her concerns, alongside someone with an opposing view, Nick Naidu, spokesperson for the New Zealand based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speakers: Vivien Mitchell, resident of the south coast of Viti Levu, Nick Naidu, spokesperson for the New Zealand based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji
MITCHELL: I wrote to the ABC a few weeks ago, well, I've actually written to them before and never had anything read out. I know a number of other people who've had emails sent to the ABC in response to news items mostly on Fiji. I know that I'm not alone in wishing that there was another perspective on Fiji stands on one that focuses on the current government means of attaining power. I'm not disputing that their means of attaining power was not a democratic route. However, the reality of life in Fiji, here, I'm living amongst the people that I speak to on a daily basis isn't reflected in what I'm hearing on the news. I know from travelling backwards and forwards between Australia and other countries fairly regularly on loaded flights coming in here that many people are very surprised at the Fiji they are finding, given the information that they have been given prior to coming here. It's not perhaps what they're expecting. I think that they're surprised not to see police everywhere. They are very happy to see the smiling faces of Fijians and that's something that we saw. I mean that's what tourism is based on apart from the beaches and the sun and so on. It would be very nice if we could convey that there is another side to Fiji. Fiji is not in the parlous state that it appears to have been portrayed. I know Nick will probably have a different take on that, and perhaps you'd like to comment Nick.
HILL: Yes Nick, if you could come in and respond to what Vivien's been saying about the portrayal of Fiji. I mean in the news media, obviously bad news makes news and good news doesn't make news. We can't really run headlines saying it's a beautiful day in Sino-Toko and the surf's up?
NIADU: Yeah. I mean,
MITCHELL: Something like that, yeah.
NAIDU: Yes, it's a hard one, because the media's only reporting on say on one incident that happens at a particular point in time and may be a group or single person being affected and I take what Vivien says that you could argue if you could use the term the average person in Fiji is most probably a bit disconnected from what's going on politically and also in terms of political commentary and what people's real views are on the situation that's currently in the environment of the military regime and intimidation or freedom of the media or the lack of open political debate. They sort of detach from that, for lots of reasons. It's not something that's just happened now. I think it's always been like that and it's hard to get that message across that the majority of people in all honesty don't really care about what's happening. They're living their lives normally and they've never really been engaged anyway politically and life goes on for them and it's irrelevant what's going on in Suva, or what's going on around the place. But underlying there is a military regime that's in almost total control of the country. They aren't encouraging open, honest constructive debate and if somebody does say something that doesn't suit them, then there is a risk that they will come down hard on that person, that's the environment, but possibly that whole message is not being put in balance and in perspective, because people don't understand how the things work there.
HILL: Vivien Mitchell, how does this situation of Fiji affect normal daily life where you are on the south coast of Viti-Levu, does it infringe of peoples daily life at all?
MITCHELL: Well, the military being in charge, no, I don't think it does. I think as Nick says people just get on with their daily life. I actually picked up very clearly on what you said, people are disconnected from what's going on politically, particularly in rural areas, not so much in the urban areas, but people in urban areas are more vocal, they tend to have more of an education which enables them to engage in the type of conversation that we're having now, whereas rural people, you don't really hear this much going on certainly not in village meetings, between individuals probably. There are lots and lots of constraints as Nick knows, the culture and tradition in Fiji. People traditionally haven't been vocal. It's not the sort of thing that has been done in the past, whereas if you question somebody in authority, the village chief or whoever it happens to be who holds sway over you in some way, it's generally considered that they are looking after your best interest and they will tell you what is best for you and it's just accepted that way because that has always been the case, not quite feudal, but patriarchal society and has been for a very long time and there are many, many people who have actually been effectively disenfranchised simply by the structure of the system here.
NAIDU: I agree there and I totally agree with all of that and I think in the short term, it's not going to change that people because of the culture or the way they live, they don't have a say and never have had a real say, they do vote, but in terms of changes that affect their lives, it's not like New Zealand and Australia where changes can be sweeping and reach far away rural areas and people. In Fiji, I think the 99 not 99 I mean 90 per cent of people are not going to really directly be affected by any political change. Unfortunately, they do get affected indirectly, not so much by information or the freedom of speech, but by economic events that take place. So their's is a day-to-day living, most people survive on a daily or weekly basis in Fiji. They are more worried about putting food on the table and having a roof over their heads, as opposed to who's in control and who's in power and who's making the decision that usually don't affect them directly anyway. So yeah, most people don't really know and in all honestly, I don't think they really care.
HILL: Vivien Mitchell, if I can come back to you. In particular, your pretty ticked off at the role of the media in particular, the Australian media and in fact one of the reasons that you're on the air at the moment, is that you sent us a very, very angry email. Can you go into some detail about what it is you think that the media is doing that's wrong or what it perhaps should be doing?
MITCHELL: Well Bruce, I've seen I've seen the process of remedying that right now, so when I wrote, I wrote in frustration because I've written so many times before and never had a response, certainly never had anything that airs on air which disagrees with the line that was taken at the time and I know quite a few other people in the same position. We've all had our heads nodding in agreement and saying why are they refusing to listen to the other side of the story. They don't have to agree, but it's only fair that present it.
HILL: Well, in all fairness, and have come part of the debate myself, but we've had a situation here for the last couple of days where I've been working where a particularly serious situation has arisen with the arrest of an Air Pacific pilot and we've been tearing our hair out trying to get someone from Air Pacific to speak to us or someone from the government to speak to us and for various reasons we've been unable to get hold of them other than a written statement from Air Pacific. Sometimes, we can't get the other side of the story, because the other side doesn't want to speak.
MITCHELL: Yes, I take that on board, but I certainly gave you the opportunity and I'm very appreciative that I now have the opportunity to actually say something. I know that there are views that people are stifled here. I think that I have to point out many of the people who feel that their views are stifled, are perhaps not entirely representative of the average Fijian, because as Nick very well pointed out, many of them are not in a position to comprehend fully what is going on, because they don't have a good enough education and education is the key to the improvement of any society. It's the key that opens the door to all sorts of futures that don't exist without it and I do see frameworks being put into place here now where there are strenuous efforts into finding what people will need in the remote rural communities, education, health centres and so on and this follow up as well, which is not just paying lip service, it's actually getting on and doing things. Even locally, we've seen a lot of small improvements, improvements that could have been done a long time ago, but never were. They weren't exactly enormously expensive, but we are seeing improvements and we're seeing people talking now, where in the past they haven't. But we've seen people educating each other just by communicating with each other and expressing opinions that I never used to see in the past and I'm talking rural areas. I know that as I say I'm not representative, but in fact I'm actually breaking all the rules because kaivulagi aren't really supposed to have an opinion and traditionally it's not the accepted thing that they express them if they do have them. But it is changing, it is changing. It feels more open, even though the perception is that it's not, because there are much the elite those whose opinions have been voiced and not accepted or are silent, I don't know. I don't know enough about that side of it. I'm talking about the reality of everyday life, and how it actually feels and how it is and I see that there is a framework being put in place which is what I believe that will enable the country to be in a better position to understand and remedy that disconnect from what's going on politically that Nick's referred to. I think that people are better able to understand now what's going on and why.
HILL: Nick Naiidu, you head the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji. You're based in Auckland, but I know that you go back and forth to Fiji quite a lot and the fact that you are able to go back and forth to Fiji quite a lot despite heading an anti-government organisation perhaps indicates that the government's not quite dictatorial as some people portray it. I mean if it were that bad, surely they'd arrest you as soon as you landed at Nadi. What kind of feedback are you getting from people in Fiji when you go back?
NAIDU: Are you suggesting they should arrest me next time I go Bruce?
HILL: No, I'm just trying to create jobs for me, create news.
NAIDU: Well, first of all I'm a spokesperson for the group and I don't head it as such. We have our own chair and secretary. In terms of I think correct me if I'm wrong Vivien. What Vivien's trying to say is that the average person even in the urban areas isn't too worried about and the regime, they get on with their lives and life goes on and has been ever since they've been born. The issues I think that get picked up by the media a lot of basic fundamental issues of human rights and of people's basic rights of having a free media so they can express themselves and also for people to be able to have open debates without any constraints or conditions being put on them and that's one of the worrying things that exist in Fiji is that as long as you comment on things that are not seen to be anti-regime or anti-Fiji, it's okay. The minute that you go outside those boundaries, you risk being apprehended, or risk being charged. To give an example, what you were saying earlier on Bruce as we speak there's a pilot that's OK there are several areas a pilot on Air Pacific whose currently I think arrested and is going to be charged or has been charged for allegedly releasing documents or leaking documents, commercially sensitive documents that implied things that were against the regime and although that's a criminal matter and a civil matter, it can also be a matter that can be charged as sedition, because anything can be seditious in the current environment and anything can be against the current regime, so it's against the country, it's seditious and those are the, that's the environment that people live in. The risk is either accidentally or indirectly you can get roped into that web of security that exists for the military regime where you could be charged with sedition and so that's the unsettling or unfair environment that the people live in, although 99 per cent will probably never be affected, because they don't may be have a real opinion or don't really if I use the word care about whose in power, but those who are or those who accidentally or indirectly can risk falling into that category and that's the biggest problem with the current situation in Fiji in terms of having a free being able to freely express yourself.
HILL: Vvien Mitchell, what would you like the media to do now that it's not doing?
MITCHELL: I think it would be nice if we could just see a few other sides of the story, may be some human interest elements could be injected into it, because if it was possible to engage a few people in areas where they normally wouldn't be asked their opinion, and just because of an overall picture, it's not going to change peoples opinions vastly, dramatically. But at the same time, I think if you could possibly allow people to express an opinion and I think you'll get two sides of the story through as many different sides as there are people here, because not everybody is in agreement and there are some who don't agree with what I'm saying. But I know that there are plenty who are in agreement with what I'm saying and I'm not talking urban Fijians. I'm talking about the rural people, not just Fijians, all the fruit salads that make up the Fiji population.
HILL: I'm not quite sure how we could approach that. I mean I can't really run a news stories saying it's a lovely sunny day in Raki Raki or the surf's up
MITCHELL: No, I think if you were to do a human interest story, featuring an aspect of life in Fiji perhaps and how it's changing.