Fiji: Bloggers discuss newspaper publisher's deportation

Fiji’s government deported the publisher for the Fiji Times Monday, January 26, a few days after the newspaper was found guilty of contempt of court and fined nearly $55,000 for printing a “scandalous” letter to the editor.

Rex Gardner, an Australian citizen, is the third foreign high-ranking media officer to be ordered out of Fiji in the past 12 months. Evan Hannah, the man Gardner replaced, was whisked out of the country in May because “he was a threat to national security.” On February 25, 2008, government officials told Russell Hunter, publisher of the Fiji Sun, he had to leave the country immediately for “conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands.”

Fiji authorities say that Gardner’s deportation stems from the guilty verdict handed to the Fiji Times on Thursday, January 22 for contempt of court for printing a letter to the editor criticizing the High Court for validating the legal maneuvers that dissolved Fiji’s Parliament after the December 2006 coup that brought Voreque Frank Bainimarama to power. It was Fiji’s forth coup since 1988. Gardner’s work permit was to expire at the end of February, but he was seeking a three-year extension. (Blogger reaction to the court verdict is here.)

Local and regional media commentators largely criticized the deportation, which coincides with the country’s Attorney General meeting with members of the 16-nation Pacific Island Forum in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea over Fiji’s government backing off on a promise to hold elections in March 2009. Tuesday, January 27, the organization gave Fiji a May 1 deadline to announce an election date that should take place this year or be suspended from the Forum.

Bainimarama, the country’s Prime Minister, did not attend the meeting because he is overseeing the relief efforts in the wake of recent flooding that took the lives of 11 people and caused an estimated $30 million in damages to infrastructure and crops in still incomplete assessments. Fiji is a former British colony whose population is currently composed of nearly 60 percent ethnic Fijians and slightly less than 40 percent Indo-Fijians, the descendants of immigrant workers brought to the islands by colonial rulers in the 19th century. Bainimarama has long maintained that he will not allow elections until his government has implemented changes to the nation’s electoral code that apportions seats in Parliament based on race. This process could take as long as five to 10 years, Bainimarama recently told members of the military at a parade.

Let’s get back to Gardner’s deportation.

The bloggers at IG Fiji fully supported the decision.

This has been long coming and Gardner should have realized long ago that any seditious comments or comments which have the possibility of raising instability in this country will have serious consequences on the individuals involved. The govt. along with the army will not be toyed with by unscrupulous people such as Gardner who concoct seditious stories merely to increase paper sales. We hope that this move will result in the media learning that every action carries a consequence and their recent behavior will not be tolerated by this govt. unlike the previous SDL govt. which used the media as its mouthpiece for spewing their propaganda all over the place. People such as [Fiji Television CEO Mesake] Nawari and other key media officials were all hand-picked by the SDL criminals and they ensured that every item published praised the govt. instead of exposing the rampant level of corruption going on inside the govt. and the fact that the govt. treasury was nearly empty.[Note: The SDL, or Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua, government was overthrown in December 2006 by the current regime.]

As per the requirements of expatriate working conditions, any expatriate found to have been served with a sentence of a legal nature is in breach of their working contract and as such will be subject to deportation at the discretion of the govt. Gardner obviously thought this was a joke and flaunted this to the point where he reaped what he had effectively sowed. The govt. will continue to monitor all expatriates who come into Fiji and then try to dictate or impose their ideals on us. We will not allow such behavior and Gardners deportation should come as no surprise. Regardless of the comments that will no doubt follow this news, the NZ and Australian govts. are in no position to tell us what to do. Our country will be run according to the laws of Fiji and not other countries laws. Any expatriate who feels they have a right to comment in our local political affairs is mistake and will be taken to task if discovered.

At the Fiji Board Exiles, real jack argues that foreigners like Gardner must pay the consequences for breaking local law.

…Gardner is here on a work permit – which has clear stipulations regarding criminal offences committed in Fiji and convictions on those offences – its grounds for cancelling his work permit – the Fiji Times, their editor and their lawyer should have realised this whenit all started – it is a SERIOUS thing – instead they went and wrote a smart aleck apology in the papers and then they went and wrote a smart alec explanation – this is what happens when you have a cowboy editor, a cowboy lawyer and a gung ho publisher.

first of all they should have vetted that thing, second they should not have written that smart alec explanation / apology, and third they should have taken this thing seriously – if this is how they want to run their business then they would be better off becoming an NGO politicians group or something like that.

Kautillya contends the Fiji Times misses the point by arguing Gardner's deportation smacks of media intimidation.

It may be in the newspaper's best interest to make this look like some kind of an attack on the media – that the regime is going after rights in the constitution – Bill of Right regarding freedom of expression. That the publisher was guilty of some “crime” for publishing something that the regime did not like. That is why they are trying to tie this case with the previous deportations and make it look like there is a pattern of behavior on the part of the IG.

gdevreal wonders about the timing of the expulsion:

And do it on the day before the Forum for all the World to see.
It is time the nations of the world just stop recognizing Voreqe as having anything to do with Fiji. He gives the nation a bad name and he has no mandate, so why don't Australia and New Zealand pick a new leader for Fiji until the election can take place.

Fiji Girl calls the deportation predictable.

Why is this upsetting?  Well, it shows, in a telling way, that this illegal regime has no interest in any pillars of the democracy, such as free and unfettered media, independent judiciary, elections, human rights.  But we knew that already. 

It means that the excellent journalists at The Fiji Times will wait and see who Gardner’s replacement is.  Will it be another old Fiji hand, like Gene Swinstead, or a new boy / girl on the block?  The feminist in me hopes News Corp will send a woman.  I’d love to see the military try their idiocy on a hard-boiled news she-hound.  It will be interesting to see what the Murdoch family’s next move is. 

It is personally upsetting because I found Rex Gardner to be a decent man, an extremely talented old school journalist, and I think he had a lot more too offer Fiji and our future than this ridiculous, self-aggrandising illegal regime would ever permit.  That is a pity because right now we can use all the talent and help we can get, to get our beloved nation back on track. 

But most of all it is upsetting because it proves, yet again, that Vore is a One Trick Pony. 

Soli Vakasama asserts the deportation proves the current government can’t take criticism.

So the Fiji Times publishes a letter to the editor written by a correspondent concerned for the welfare of the citizens of Fiji and the illegal stance the interim regime has taken by hijacking a democratically elected government and preventing the country from moving forward. so what, it’s what the public can read and deduce for themselves.

Our meagre industries have collapsed, our rights have been violated, highly qualified citizens have been deprived of their jobs, yet the ignorant coup apologists feathering their nests with Piggy Bhainimarama pointing his trotters expect us to stay quiet.

Is there any wonder blogsites have sprung up overnight so people can disseminate their opinions on the illegal ignorant regime.

New Zealand academic Crosbie Walsh, who runs Fiji: The Way it Was, Is, and Can Be, a blog following unbalanced reporting in international coverage on Fiji, feels the deportation reveals the grave image and diplomatic difficulties facing Bainimarama’s so-called Interim Government.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this incident, it provides the IG's critics with more fuel for their fires, and is another example of the IG's diplomatic ineptness. The Government desperately needs wise advisers and spokesmen who think very carefully before they speak. If its cause is just, as it believes, it is certainly not winning any friends by Gardner's deportation.

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