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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 7, 2001 - Daily Post/Fiji Times/Pacific Media Watch/Niuswire)---Three prominent Australian and New Zealand journalists have been attacked by Fiji’s interim regime and sympathetic news media, embarrassed by the country’s poor post-coup international image.

Award-winning Australian investigative journalist Mark Davis came under fire in the Daily Post on February 7, 2001 over last month’s SBS Dateline documentary on the plight of Indo-Fijian cane farmers.

Transcripts of the program have been widely published on Pacific Internet websites, including that of the deposed elected Fiji Peoples Coalition Government, and email list serves.

In a front-page report under the banner headline, "Kubuabola slams coverage," the newspaper reported that the January 31 program which portrayed Indo-Fijian cane farmers as landless, penniless and voiceless had been branded as "typical of the one-sided and ethnic bias" with which the land situation in Fiji was being "deliberately sensationalized."

The newspaper quoted the regime’s Interim Minister for Information and Communications, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, as criticizing the program.

"The truth of the matter is that it is the landowners who are the real victims of exploitation. They are the truly poor of the sugar industry. The farmers have been the winners," Kubuabola said.

The newspaper took the extraordinary editorial step of running the minister’s political statement over much of the front page, mostly as direct quotes and with no other balancing interviews or comments.

Davis, a former Walkley Award winner, is highly regarded for his Pacific investigative reports, particularly in West Papua.

New Zealand journalist Michael Field, Pacific affairs reporter for the French news agency Agence France-Presse, was also criticized in the Fiji Times on February 7.

Under the headline "False reporting" on the letters to the editor page, Prime Minister’s Office Permanent Secretary Jioji Kotobalavu attacked Field over a report in the Fiji Times on February 1 which described regime Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase as "isolated" at the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders meeting in Honolulu.

He accused Field of being responsible for a "false and malicious" rumor about the health of former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara when he was in "top form" chairing the meeting.

Kotobalavu also took a swipe at reporters such as Field who were claimed to be "blinded by their own arrogant sense of self-importance."

"Perhaps New Zealand reporter Field so badly missed the disruptive influence of New Zealand and Australia that he started making false and malicious allegations and insinuations to make something out of nothing," he said.

Kotobalavu said that as a "palagi" (outsider), Field clearly had "no understanding and appreciation of Fijian and Pacific Island culture." The permanent secretary implied that the Kiribati government acted correctly in barring Field from the South Pacific Forum last October.

Field is regarded as one of the more perceptive journalists covering the region.

In the February edition of the south edition of Pacific Magazine, New Zealand journalist and author David Robie has come under attack over an academic paper presented at the Journalism Education Association (JEA) of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific conference last December. Robie criticized the coverage by some sectors of the Fiji news media before, during and after the George Speight coup.

The analysis, "Coup coup land: The press and the putsch in Fiji,", has been bitterly condemned by the Fiji Times and the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), and in an email and internet campaign by one of the magazine’s editors.

The Fiji Times editors met with University of the South Pacific authorities and in a letter demanded the ousting of Robie as USP’s journalism programme coordinator. However, the administration upheld academic freedom and rejected "censorship."

Bitter personal attacks are characteristic of Fiji news media while issues are not well canvassed.


Title -- 3195 FIJI: Journalists blasted by interim regime Date -- 7 February 2001 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- PMW/Daily Post/Fiji Times, 7/2/1 Copyright – PMW Status – Unabridged

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