Bainimarama lifts ban on journalists
Venkat Raman –
In a move seen as a goodwill gesture prior to his first official visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama announced that his country would welcome New Zealand journalists, including Barbara Dreaver (TVNZ) and Michael Field (Fairfax) who were banned from entering Fiji earlier.
An announcement made by him on October 16, just days before his arrival in Auckland, said that any journalist would be welcome into his country, provided they are approved by the Information Ministry.
Mr Bainimarama said that the bans were put in place because his government believed that some journalists had crossed the line from journalism to political advocacy and inserted themselves into the domestic political debate.
“Fiji has established a robust democracy and has no fear of honest criticism or critical reporting of events,” he said.
Speaking at a Symposium organised by Fiji Trade & Investment at Stamford Plaza Hotel on October 20, 2016 he extended a similar message to the New Zealand Media.
“Now that the bans on individual journalists visiting Fiji have been lifted, you are welcome – without exception – to visit Fiji like the journalists of other countries. You are free to report without restriction once you have been accredited in the usual way by our Department of Information. And all we ask is that you cover events fairly and in a balanced manner, which is the obligation of journalists the world over,” he said.
“I hope that you will come and see for yourselves the progress we have made on the back of seven straight years of economic growth – the longest in Fijian history. And to see for yourselves that our institutions of State are functioning properly and we are strengthening those institutions as we move forward. To ensure that they are truly independent and free from political and personal influence, as happened far too often in the past,” he added.
Tough talk in Suva
As reported by this writer who was a part of a media delegation accompanying Prime Minister John Key during his first official visit to Fiji on June 9 and 10, 2016 (Indian Newslink, June 15, 2016), Mr Bainimarama had expressed strongly about the ban that was in existence at that time.
“We cannot allow the wilful propagation of false information that damages the national interest and undermines our vulnerable economy. And that is what has happened in the case of certain New Zealand journalists and others from Australia. Incidentally, no journalist from any other country has been banned from Fiji. Certain journalists in New Zealand and Australia, along with certain journalists in Fiji, think nothing of dispensing with the facts if they get in the way of the politically weighted narrative they want to tell. We are saying to the news organisations that employ them: ‘Send someone else. Someone who respects the facts and the right of people to know the truth. Not some twisted concoction,’” he had said.
Mr Bainimarama appeared to keen to correct some impressions in New Zealand.
“It is unfortunate that some of the New Zealand media reporting Mr Key’s visit June suggested that I had given him a hard time. It is true that I politely outlined to him the reasons why we had chosen to embark on a radical programme in 2006 to create a level playing field for every Fijian. And that we had fulfilled our promise to return Fiji to parliamentary rule in the election of September 2014.
“I also said that it was a shame that New Zealand, Australia and certain other countries had failed to understand what we were trying to do – which was to introduce genuine democracy for the first time in Fiji and guarantee the rights of every Fijian in the 2013 Constitution.”
No insults, please
“Yet far from being the insult that some members of the media chose to cast it as, I think John Key understood that the speech I made was merely outlining our position and that no disrespect was intended. The indignation was on the part of some of the New Zealand media, not the Prime Minister, and undoubtedly because I also criticised their unrelentingly negative and unbalanced reporting of events in Fiji. But away from their gaze, the atmosphere between John Key and I personally was very cordial and we got on famously.”
“He knows that I’m Frank by name and Frank by nature and I know that he’s a similarly plain speaking Kiwi. Which is undoubtedly why the New Zealand people keep voting him back into office. So, we are big enough to say what we think and then move on. And I want to thank him for being a straight shooter, for not taking things too personally and especially for giving me the opportunity to get together with him again in New Zealand and enjoy each other’s company,” Mr Bainimarama said.
Please read related reports in Fijilink, Businesslink and Viewlink.
Frank Bainimarama with John Key at Government House in Auckland on Saturday, October 22, 2016 (Photo by Sanjesh Narayan, Radio Tarana)