digital knowledge. digital culture. digital memory.


Fiji's blogs, activism, and old media

New to this blog? Why not subscribe to its feed or sign up for free email updates?

This was NOT the scene in Suva on May Day 2007

May Day has come to pass and there was little or no sign of widespread participation in the Freedom Bloggers' "stay at home" strike campaign. The official government report with respect to public sector staff was as unqualified.
The Permanent Secretary for the Public Service Taina Tagicakibau said the civil service was not affected at all today. She said the Public Service Commission rang all the ministries and departments especially the larger ones that provide essential services but found civil servants at work as usual.
[Civil servants defy anti-coup protest, Fiji Live, May 2, 2007]

Radio Australia was only a little more positive in their assessment.
Reports from Fiji suggest that calls for a day of industrial action in protest against the interim military government to coincide with May Day yesterday have had a mixed response.
[Fiji May Day protest has mixed success, Radio Australia, May 2, 2007]

A media statement issued by a the pseudonymed Freedom Bloggers states their success only in terms of harassing the interim regime.
The 1st of May Protest today rankled the Public Service Commission to a state of hysteria said Freedom bloggers Fijianblack, Discombobulated Bubu and Intelligentsiya.
[The Journey has just begun…, Intelligentsiya, May 2, 2007]

I was very interested to see if this blog driven call for political action would succeed. It is difficult to say if it failed due to a lack of widespread support, fear of retaliation, or simply due to the comparatively small audience that blogs can draw in a nation where Internet access is far from ubiquitous and far from affordable by local standards.

I was surprised by the lack of coverage of this call to action by traditional news outlets and especially Fiji's newspapers. The Fiji Times, for one, has been completely silent on this call for action. A failed protest may not deserve the front page, but certainly it is worthy of reporting when the military spokesperson and the chair of the Public Service Commission are both fielding questions on the matter, and stories are appearing in the international press? Is it possible that the Fiji Times is practicing censorship under the guidance or influence of the military regime? It is possible, but I think the explanation lies elsewhere.

Puttin on my librarian hat, I did a search of the last couple years of the Fiji Times. While the Fiji Times does not have a reputation as a hot-bed of technology journalism, I was shocked to find that the words blog and blogger have only occurred four times since October, 2004, which is as far back as the ProQuest database goes. (Note: USP staff and students can search ProQuest off of the USP Library databases page.) Here are the dates and summaries of the four articles:
  • Be wary, Khaiyum advises reporters (March 13, 2007) - JOURNALISTS who deliberately go out of their way to upset the public order act could still be detained, says the attorney general Aiyaz Saiyad Khaiyum. He said he had viewed the Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and New Zealand Herald which had the headline Fourth man dies in military custody which they picked up from a blog. He said no one knows who writes the blog.
  • Bloggers defend online actions (March 12, 2007) - What the military is doing is information warfare and a propaganda campaign focusing on Intelligentsiya as a sort of enemy of the State we re not, said the writers of behind the site called Intelligentsiya. Last week Interim Prime Minister and army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said he supported media freedom but warned that journalists who ran false and malicious stories would be taken in for questioning.
  • Letter to the editor from Laisa Digitaki (March 7, 2007) - "...Somehow, someone saw it fit to post the statement without my knowledge on websites, blogs and mass e-mail. It is a technological invasion I found very intrusive but one that was beyond my control..."
  • Website creation the way to go (August 6, 2006) - The company is offering three packages: the LITE Starter, LITE Silver and LITE Platinum. The packages come with email addresses, design templates to choose from, domain name and registration, a logo or image of clients' choice, guest book, photo album, flash intro animations, shopping cart, blog/welog tools and graphics rich welcome tool. Mr Jonathan Segal, who moved to Fiji from New York, worked for Connect Fiji for two years before starting Oceanic.
I suggest that the Fiji Times editorial staff is consciously under reporting blog-related news because they see blogs, with their editorial freedom, anonymity (if desired), and up-to-the-minute timeliness as a threat to their business. This is an issue that foreign newspapers have been struggling with for years. The Fiji Times' response is similar to that of Rupert Murdoch's other publications, although perhaps a year or two behind.
The digital native doesn’t send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.
[Rupert Murdoch, Speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 13, 2005]
Murdoch, the King among Kings when it comes to the big business of news, wants you to blog, but only if you blog with him.

UPDATE 3/5/2007: The Fiji Times caught up with the Freedom Bloggers' strike episode with a brief story in this morning's issue. Here it is in full:
THE military is looking for person or people behind the bloggers website Fijian Black', which called on members of the public to silently resist the interim Government.
The website called on people to boycott work last Tuesday in protest against the interim administration.
Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said he believed people did not respond to the call.
"Everyone was at work," he said.
The content of the Fijian Black' blogspot largely consists of articles critical of the military and the interim regime.
"Yes, we are still looking for Fijian Black but we are not spending too much time on that," Major Leweni said.
The Public Service Commission is investigating how many civil servants stayed away from work in response to the call.
PSC chairman Rishi Ram said those who failed to report to work on Tuesday could have their wages docked.
[Website hunt, Fiji Times, May 3, 2007]
photo by Hugo


Anonymous said...

I agree the Fiji Times feels threatened by blogs and perhaps Rupert Murdoch. It appears that Newscorp is trying expand their empire by an attempt to buy out Dow Jones, the company that runs Wall Street stock ticker.

In regards to censorship, I feel that the Fiji Times only reveals some blogs and not others, pointing to a degree of selectivity.
Fiji Times and other local media choose to publish the story of blogs only after the Military were on their heels. Little coverage was given to the blog meet up , which you organized.