The issue of Q&A and ban on Journalists in Fiji

Venkat Raman – 
venkat@indiannewslink.co.nz

Labour MP David Shearer has criticised Prime Minister John Key for ‘wasting an opportunity’ of taking up ‘issues of relevance’ with his Fijian counterpart Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama during his visit to Fiji last week.

His article, unedited, appears in this section.

However, as a member of the Media delegation that accompanied Mr Key to Fiji on June 9 and 10, 2016, the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister in ten years, I am duty bound to clarify a few issues.

Shearer’s right

As the Editor of this newspaper and as a journalist who defends freedom of the press and democratic traditions, I do not question the right of Mr Shearer to his opinion. Perhaps, if he was the Prime Minister of New Zealand and if he were to undertake a State visit to Fiji under the current set of circumstances, he may have confronted Mr Bainimarama and objected to his handling of the New Zealand media, including banning a few to his country.

It was indeed true that the government of Fiji had informed long before we departed New Zealand that there would be no questions to be asked at the Joint Press Statement at his office on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Those who accompanied Mr Key had the choice not to undertake the trip.

But all of us did, because many of us are used to his ‘No Questions Allowed’ syndrome, from even the champions of democracy such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia and India.

There were occasions when visiting Presidents, Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State, Foreign Ministers and others have made it known that media presence would be confined to photo opportunities and that there would be Stand Up.

Dinner Speech

There have been strong opposition to the tough stand that Mr Bainimarama took when he spoke at the State banquet that he hosted for Mr Key at the Grand Pacific Hotel on June 9, 2016.

Speaking to us later, Mr Key said that he was not surprised. “He has made similar remarks in the past and may repeat them in the future. I am here to restart our relations with Fiji,” he said and clarified New Zealand’s stand on a number of issues including its membership and that of Fiji to the Pacific Islands Forum.

These and our opinions thereof appear elsewhere in this Special Report.

It would be unfair to say that Mr Bainimarama was hostile. On the contrary, we found genuine warmth in the way in which Mr Key was received and conducted, with signage boards and school children line-up on streets waving to him.

Opposition Leader

There was no opportunity to pose questions to Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa, who held a 30-minute meeting with Mr Key at her office. Our stay was limited to less than two minutes for photographs.

Later she described her discussions with Key as ‘successful.’

Speaking to Fiji Times Online, Ms Kepa said that she had raised her disappointment with Mr Key on the changes to the Parliamentary Standing Orders to remove an Opposition Chairman from the Public Accounts Committee in Fiji.

“I also highlighted the continued existence of the Media Decree and its imposition on the Fiji media which was still not removed,” she said.

Following her meeting, Ms Kepa wrote on her Facebook Page: “John Key is my new hero. He is beautiful, smart and supports SODELPA all the way. We had a good chat on how to oust the Fiji government.”

More Reports and pictures on the visit of Prime Minister John Key to Fiji appear in this Special Section.

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Photo Caption:

Fiji’s Leader of the Opposition Ro Teimumu Kepa with Prime Minister John Key on June 10 in her Suva Office (Picture from her Facebook).

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