Saturday, July 30, 2016
Fijileaks was hacked following its publication of my paper Digital Buturaki, which was presented on July 16 at the World Journalism Education Congress in Auckland. Qorvis must be desperate to suppress it. I will thus reprint it on my blog. Hack this, Qorvis.
Digital buturaki: Government-sponsored
blogs assail critics of
Digital buturaki: Government-sponsored
blogs assail critics of
’s military dictatorship Fiji
Marc Edge, Ph.D.
A PAPER PRESENTED TO THE WORLD JOURNALISM EDUCATION CONGRESS,
JULY 14-16, 2016, AUCKLAND,
A series of coups beset
following its independence from Great Britain
in 1970. Some blamed the press, segments of which had been critical of the
government, for fomenting a coup in 2000 (Singh, T.R., 2011). According to Robie (2003: 104), ‘Many
powerful institutions, such as the Methodist Church in Fiji, and politicians in
the Pacific believe there is no place for a Western-style free media and it should
be held in check by Government legislation’. Self-regulation of the press by the Fiji Media Council was criticized as
2004). A clampdown on press freedom by the military, which took
control of the country in a 2006 coup, saw a new type of publication emerge in
response. Enabled by websites such as blogger.com which offered free software
and hosting of personal diaries, web logs or ‘blogs’ became popular at the millennium.
Pro-democracy blogs in post-coup Fiji
were almost exclusively anonymous, however, as anyone caught spreading
anti-government sentiment risked being arrested and beaten by the military. It
detained several suspected bloggers and also put pressure on the country’s
telecommunications provider Fintel to block blogger.com. In response, a group
of bloggers from New Zealand
offered to host Fijian blogs on their servers (Fiji Times, 2007). According to Foster, by cracking
down on press freedom, the military ‘unleashed’ the blogs. The resulting ‘public
relations nightmare’, she concluded, proved worse for the regime’s image than a
free press would have.
The blogs’ no-holds-barred approach to military criticism picked holes in media coverage of the crisis, with blogs running stories detailing alleged military abuse as well as releasing several confidential documents (Foster, 2007: 47–48).
Not all political blogs in post-coup
were anti-regime, however. In early 2009, New Zealand resident Crosbie Walsh
began a blog he called Fiji: The Way it Was, Is and Can Be, partly in response
to what he saw as biased reporting on Fiji in the mainstream media of his
country. A retired professor from the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji,
Walsh also published a study in 2010 which catalogued 72
known political blogs in , of which 42 were active. ‘Fifty-three were anti
[-government] – 19 extremely so; 15 were
more or less ‘neutral’, and three were pro-government’ (Walsh, 2010: 164).
Walsh deemed his own blog ‘mildly pro-government’, compared
to blogs such as Coup 4.5, which actively
incited unrest. ‘The anti-government blogs, hailed by coup opponents as
advocates of democracy, are little more than agents of uncritical dissent’ (Walsh, 2010: 174). Coup 4.5 was among the most popular
blogs, noted Walsh, with a ‘staggering’ 60,000 visitors in November 2009
compared with 30,000 visitors to his own blog over a longer period (Walsh, 2010: 158). Fiji
In April 2009,
’s Fiji Appeal Court ruled the 2006 coup unconstitutional, prompting the
government to abrogate the constitution, sack the judiciary, declare martial
law, and clamp down on civil rights. Several foreign journalists were deported and
censors were installed in newsrooms to prevent negative news about the
government being published. Blog activity spiked in an attempt to fill the news
vacuum, prompting a renewed government crackdown. The pro-regime blog Real Fiji
News published the names of several prominent residents it claimed were behind the anti-government blog
Raw Fiji News, including the editor of the Fiji Times and three Suva lawyers, who were arrested and detained briefly for questioning
(Merritt, 2009). In 2010, the regime appointed former Fairfax Media advertising
executive Sharon Smith Johns as Permanent Secretary for Information, making her
admittedly the country’s ‘chief censor and media strategist’ (Davis,
2010). A Media Industry Development Decree (Media Decree) was enacted by the
military government the same year. It provided for fines of up to F$1,000 for journalists found in contravention
of its guidelines, which increased to F$25,000 for publishers or editors and F$100,000
for media organisations
(Foster, 2010; Singh, S. 2010). Suva
In February 2011, Australian journalist Graham Davis began a blog he called Grubsheet after his production company Grubstreet. It covered a range of topics for its first year, but by early 2012 it began to focus on
politics almost exclusively. Davis, who was born in Fiji, began that focus with
a blog entry that criticised Coup 4.5 for alleging that Muslims were
‘colonising’ Fiji at the behest of Bainimarama’s right-hand man,
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who was a Muslim. ‘This grubby little
offering isn’t just inflammatory but utterly false’, wrote Davis.
‘Simply put, Coup 4.5 – with this base offering – has become the local
equivalent of a Nazi hate sheet’ ( Davis,
2012a). The blog entry was reprinted in the pro-regime Fiji Sun newspaper,
as well as on Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Scoop and Pacific
Media Centre websites, and on the blogs of Walsh and AUT journalism educator
David Robie. ‘Who are these people?’ asked Davis
of the contributors to Coup 4.5. A few wrote under their own names, he noted,
including former Fiji Sun investigative reporter Victor Lal, who lived
in England, and economist Wadan Narsey, who had been forced to resign his teaching
position at the USP as a result of his outspoken opposition to the military
government. Most, noted Davis, did
They’re always anonymous but are said to be a group of Fiji journalists running their site out of Auckland, with contributions from members of the deposed SDL government, ex civil servants and a hard core of anti-regime ‘human rights’ advocates. . . . The wonder is that some of 4.5’s content is written by respected journalists and academics who are Indo-Fijians to boot (
In October 2011, the
regime contracted with U.S.
public relations company Qorvis Communications at a cost of US$40,000 per month.
According to Bainimarama (2011), the purpose was ‘to assist with training and
support for our Ministry of Information – to ensure its operations take into
account advances in social media, the Internet and best practices regarding the
media’. New Zealand
journalist Michael Field, who was among the journalists barred from Fiji
for reporting critically on the regime, pointed out that Qorvis had a sinister
reputation in other parts of the world where it operated. ‘Qorvis specialises
in putting a spin on dictators like those of Tunisia
and Egypt who
resisted Arab Spring. . . . Hiring Washington
spin-doctors is a well-walked road for dictators who work on their image in Washington
and at the United Nations’ (Field, 2011). American journalist Anna Lenzer, who
had been arrested on a recent assignment to Fiji,
noted in the Huffington Post ‘the Fijian junta’s exploding internet and social media presence in the weeks since Qorvis
began its work’ (Lenzer, 2011). The Huffington Post had earlier questioned the tactics
employed by Qorvis on behalf of the dictatorship in Bahrain. ‘Beyond
disappearing bloggers and rights activists, Bahrain
also tries to disappear criticism’, it noted. ‘Most of the U.S.-based fake
tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out
from inside Qorvis Communication’s “Geo-Political Solutions” division’ (Halvorssen,
More so than intimidation, violence, and disappearances, the most important tool for dictatorships across the world is the discrediting of critics. . . . Oppressive governments are threatened by public exposure, and this means that it’s not just human rights defenders but also bloggers, opinion journalists, and civil society activists who are regularly and viciously maligned (Halvorssen, 2011).
The Huffington Post also reported in 2011 that an exodus of Qorvis operatives had taken place over the firm’s unsavoury tactics and clients. In a space of two months, it noted, more than a third of the partners at Qorvis had left the firm, partly because of its work on behalf of such clients as
Arabia and Equatorial
Guinea. ‘I just have trouble working with
despotic dictators killing their own people’, one former Qorvis insider said
Saturday, September 27, 2014
The election result was something of a foregone conclusion given the degree of control exercised by the erstwhile dictatorship over all aspects of political life. Draconian decrees restricting fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press meant that opposition voices would have trouble being heard. Control over the news media was especially important for Frank Bainimarama to gain legitimacy as elected prime minister, and it was assured by intimidation of both Fiji TV and the Fiji Times under the Media Decree. The
Sun and FBC, meanwhile, could be counted on for shameless cheerleading on
behalf of the regime.
Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher (1655-1716) observed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” That was back when ballads were the main means of spreading the news, which even 300 years ago was well understood as the key to forming public opinion. Now imagine if a politician could both control the news AND make all the laws of a nation. How would you like his chances at the polls? That was the situation in
for almost eight years subsequent to Bainimarama’s 2006 coup. The only real
surprise is that he didn’t take all 50 seats, as he boasted he would. That Sodelpa
managed as many seats as it did speaks to the depth of indigenous outrage that
will not be going away anytime soon.
The real question is whether
could handle a genuine democracy with a free press, or if the country needs an über-authoritarian
strongman like Bainimarama to keep control. Those who claim the latter is true
point to the country’s history of coups dating back to 1987. Some blame the
press for fomenting the 2000 coup, which on my reading of the record seems
specious, at best. But the fact remains that Fiji’s
two solitudes have shown they simply cannot play nicely enough together for a real democracy. Calls for an end to the “coup culture” that has bedeviled
the country have perhaps been answered with a militarisation which has seen an
elected government laced with army officers. Combined with restrictive decrees
which amount to almost as much government control as during martial law, the
result is perhaps a permanent state of coup which will indeed preclude future
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
In the classic 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, a
spin doctor played by Robert
De Niro constructs a phony overseas entanglement just days before a national election
in a bid to boost the re-election hopes of an incumbent president. The title
of the film referred to something of secondary importance improperly taking on
primary importance. In the study of political communication, this effect is
known as priming. Intense media coverage of
a subject can result in a candidate’s record in that area taking precedence in
the minds of voters over more important issues, such as running the economy. Washington,
Last week’s freeing of 45 peacekeepers held hostage in the Middle East was thus like manna from heaven for the Bainimarama regime, as their capture had fixated the nation almost more than the election. Could the junta’s
doctor Qorvis Communications have had anything to do with the $20 million ransom reportedly paid by Qatar for their release? Qorvis has the bulk of its clients in the Washington, D.C. Middle
East, including Qatar’s state broadcaster Al-Jazeera. A ransom of $20 million would be chump change to the oil-rich Qataris, and
release of the Fijian peacekeepers would be of immense public relations value
to the Fiji
The junta thus blatantly milked its good fortune for all it was worth, declaring yesterday Thanksgiving in advance of today’s election. (
time, of course.) As a 48-hour media blackout has supposedly descended on the
nation in advance of polling, the news focus will thus have been on the
ceremony at the national stadium. Nothing but warm fuzzy feelings will no
doubt be felt toward the government, which could have been quite different had
the peacekeepers not been released, or even worse been executed. Frank Bainimarama
must feel doubly blessed, what with the apparently dismal performance of
Sodelpa leader Ro Teimumu Kepa in the recent televised debate. Had the
articulate NFP leader Biman Prasad been part of the proceedings, the outcome
could have been considerably different. Expect Bainimarama to breeze to victory
in the polls, but not quite by the unanimous margin he covets.
As for that media blackout, all is mostly quiet on the domestic front, if not on the blogs. Pacific Scoop reports that government broadcaster FBC ran ads for Fiji FIST within 48 hours of polling, in contravention of the Elections Decree, although they have now disappeared. “Several blogs, a
news agency and many political parties have all apparently broken the rules
online,” noted student journalist Thomas Carnegie from Auckland.
“The potential breaches show the inability of the overwhelmed Fijian
authorities to monitor the chaotic internet. They also raise questions about
why the Elections Decree attempted to criminalise the online world over
Many blogs have also published commentaries that would seem to breach Section 118. Fiji Media Wars blogger Marc Edge posted a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama. He wrote that Fijian authorities had little influence over the blogosphere. “The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t,” he added. FijiLeaks, published by investigative journalist Victor Lal, posted a comment that the media blackout was a “sinister ploy” to stop damaging information about Fiji First being revealed.
I’m not quite sure what Carnegie is referring to as “a commentary yesterday heavily criticising Bainimarama.” I instead posted two first-person accounts of beatings administered as part of what I described as “the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the wake of military commander Frank Bainimarama seizing power in December 2006.” That’s hardly a political commentary. Perhaps they were referring to this bit of editorializing.
Fijihave reached a point where many wish to speak out about what has gone on there for the past eight years. The climate of fear that has visited the country during Bainimarama’s reign of terror has prevented much of his abuse from going unreported. The question becomes, how much truth can come out in the next two days?
That’s hardly political advocacy, however. I have never advocated for one party over another in
Fiji. I take no position on Fiji politics. My only ambition is to give light to facts which have been suppressed. If those facts have
political implications, then so be it. This is much different to New
Zealand blogger Crosbie Walsh, who instead
blatantly electioneered for Bainimarama yesterday in a clear breach of
the Elections Decree. “I am saying vote FijiFirst and don’t waste your vote by
voting for any any [sic.] of the minor parties,” wrote Croz, who obviously needs a copy editor. His update to a blog entry titled “What if I’m Wrong?”, which I and others pointed to as expressing doubts about the dictator, was defensive and obviously hurried, perhaps after a heated phone call from Suva. Croz even laced
the comments section several times over with a further disclaimer.
To all discussants. Thank you for your comments. Several of you have said I expressed doubt about the Bainimrama goverment [sic.] and took this to mean I had changed my opinion. This is not correct. I am rarely, if ever, “certain” on any important issue, and often start from a position of doubt. I usually consider the likely motivations, causes and effects before making an assessment or judgment. Isn’t this what every intelligent person does? I wrote the UPDATE because the anti-Bainimarama blogs took what I consider to be an honest and upfront statement and ignored its main message which was vote FijiFirst. The only real alternative, SODELPA, will set
Fijiback a decade.
Croz also deleted several of my comments to the effect that he was indeed wrong. Meanwhile he has left up vile threats such as this one: “Marc Edge, we are watching the arrivals into
Come if you dare. A wonderful welcome awaits you. You won’t be able to sit down
for a year. But then again, you will probably enjoy it. Just biding our time.
Tick tick tick.” I guess that’s just proof that I’m on the right track and
that the junta really is a vile, murderous lot. I have also been dropped from the Facebook group Friends of Fiji MEDIA for the crime of having posted links there to my latest blog entries. Group administrators are obviously concerned about penalties in the Elections Decree that provide for fines of up to $50,000 and prison sentences of up to 10 years in prison for violating the blackout. I haven’t been dropped from other Facebook groups, for some reason, such as the Fiji Democratic Forum or the Fiji Economic Forum, so I should be able to post a link to this blog entry in those groups. Does that mean economists and democrats are less concerned than media are about violating the Elections Decree? More likely it means there hasn’t been the pressure applied to them that has obviously been applied to Fiji media.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Hosanna Kabakoro, who suffered at the hands of the woman-bashing dictator’s son, Meli Bainimarama. That day saw more than 700 pageviews, so the past 24 hours have been more than double that.
It just goes to show the interest in stories that cannot be told in
media due to the Draconian decrees the junta has imposed on news media there.
The dictatorship thinks it can even prevent overseas media and blogs from reporting
what it wants suppressed. This is proof that it can’t. Fiji