Fiji TV station guilty of 'hate speech'

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 17:00 03/04/2014

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Fiji's main television station has been found guilty of hate speech after it broadcast comments warning the country's military leader that the Indian minority were using him for their own ends.

But the speech, by ratu or chief Timoci Vesikula, has starkly revealed that Fiji's supposedly dormant racial tensions are a potent if suppressed force.

"Race is a fact of life, and it is very difficult to reconcile our differences," Vesikula told military leader Frank Bainimarama in a meeting aired by Fiji TV.

A regime-created body, Media Industry Development Authority (Mida), received a complaint yesterday from Ministry of Information secretary Sharon Smith-Johns who claimed it breached the regime's Media Decree Code of Ethics.

Without any hearing, chairman Ashwin Raj issued a ruling saying Vesikula was guilty of hate speech and Fiji TV has to broadcast a retraction.

Vesikula could now face 10 years' jail and Fiji TV a heavy fine.

Paradoxically, Mida provided a further translation of Vesikula's speech including the statement: "Even though we have lived together for a long time, you can't mix water with kerosene."

Ever since staging his 2006 coup, Bainimarama has claimed to have taken race – an element in all four of its coups – out of Fiji politics.

But Vesikula, who was a democratically elected politician, said it was indigenous Fijians who made the country.

Of Fiji's 837,000 people, 37 per cent are Indians and 56 per cent indigenous, who are now officially known as "i-Taukei".

Bainimarama has called for democracy-restoring elections in September.

He yesterday met Vesikula and the chiefs of the Tailevu area, traditionally restive and pro-indigenous nationalists.

"There are a few issues that we need to remind you of since you're from Tailevu," Vesikula told Bainimarama in an address translated by Fiji TV.

"We will be frank with you in the hope that you will take extra precautions."

Using indigenous phrases, he told Bainimarama his power base was with the indigenous.

"You have the i-Taukei support for the general elections but do not be mistaken that other communities will support you."

Bainimarama scrapped education scholarships for i-Taukei-only students, providing instead a non-racial version.

Vesikula denounced this, asking Bainimarama what he was doing and saying that while Fijians were not allowed to be called that any more, what exactly did "i-Taukei" now own.

"You have taken the scholarships away. I want to ask you, what will you be keeping for us?"

Mida's Raj in a statement this afternoon said he found disconcerting "the complicity of select Fijian journalists and media".

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The "unfettered prominence" given to Vesikula was "an indictment of this retrogression", he said.

Raj said his decision ordering Fiji TV to broadcast his statement "cannot be misconstrued as an impingement on the freedom of expression".


- Fairfax Media

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