Monday, May 25, 2009

Fiji media risks ending up like Chinese press, says academic

Chinese language media in New Zealand relies heavily on free content from mainland China's media and is “importing the propaganda line to Chinese-language discourse in New Zealand”.

By Steve Chae: Pacific Media Centre

Fiji’s media is at risk of becoming like the Chinese press with an authoritarian model under the censorship regime, says a New Zealand journalism academic.

“In the West, the media’s role is mainly seen as a watchdog. In Fiji, the traditionally western-style media is now under threat from a military regime that doesn’t want to accept independent news in a country that is very diverse ethnically and religion,” says Pacific Media Centre director associate professor David Robie.

“The cultural complexities in Fiji are such that many in people in the country believe there should be nation-building media.”

While the majority of the population of 940,000 are indigenous Fijian (54 percent), there is a 37 percent Indo-Fijian minority and other races. The country’s dominant religion is Methodist, but among the Indo-Fijians, a majority is Hindu without about a third Muslim.

China has growing economic and political influence in Fiji since the December 2006 coup. Fiji imposed draconian censorship on April 10.

Ranjit Singh, former publisher of Fiji Daily Post and now chief reporter of the Indian Weekender in New Zealand, says: “Fiji never had democracy but the problem arises from pushing the Western concept of democracy”.

“It’s a first world solution to a third world country,” he says.

“That does not help to understand the complexities of the Fiji issue. The issue is not black and white. It’s got shades of grey.”

Dr Robie says the Fiji media is expected by many people to help solidify national identity.

“The Chinese media has parallels with Fiji in that their journalists are also trying to find a space within the authoritarian media,” he says.

“But the New Zealand media reacts with shock and horror at the lack of plurality of ideas in these media.”

Propaganda machines
A Press article reports how the Chinese government propaganda machines work in a two-pronged strategy aimed at Chinese people at home and also abroad.

Dr Anne-Marie Brady says Chinese people in New Zealand are affected by the Chinese propaganda focused on those living overseas.

An associate professor at the University of Canterbury’s School of Political and Social Sciences, Dr Brady gave a talk on the operations of Chinese propaganda to the US Security Commission in Washington last month.

She says the Chinese language media in New Zealand relies heavily on free content from the Chinese media and is important – “especially to new migrants to New Zealand”.

This is “importing the propaganda line to Chinese-language discourse in New Zealand”.

David Soh, publisher of the Mandarin Times, says 80 percent of his readers are native speakers who are born and raised in China.

He says new migrants to New Zealand feel a sense of belonging to China but accept they are citizens of a new country.

The paper makes subscriptions to Xinhua news agency in China but also fills its pages daily with translations of New Zealand news.

Soh says he is free to report on anything he likes and will respond with criticism on things that are happening in China.

Tibet divisive
Last year’s Tibet incident was sensitive and had “quite a divisive effect” within the Chinese community, whereas the Sichuan earthquake was emotional and reached a common feeling.

He says he does not promote things that are illegal in China such as the Falun Gong practitioners but accepts they are legal in New Zealand.

Asked about Fiji, Soh says it is “a different world where law and order is not good at the moment”.

Hewitt Wang, editor of, says the media he works for is a New Zealand media and presents the opinions of Chinese community in New Zealand.

“We accept all the opinions from worldwide media - not just the Chinese media,” he says.

Ethnic community media should be publishing all views, including the Chinese propaganda.

“Propaganda depends on how you define it. I like to think of it in a positive way,” says Wang.

Dr Robie says propaganda is “uncontested information which can be plain wrong, or disinformation calculated to achieve a manipulated mindset”.

“With competing media, the truth will emerge somewhere down the track. When government imposes news values, that single view becomes propaganda,” he says.

Language ability
Virginia Chong, vice-president of the New Zealand Chinese Association, says she does not read Chinese language media in New Zealand because she has lost the language ability having been born here.

Chong says international students can become influenced by the Chinese language media here.

“Every country puts out spin and everybody has their own impression on those things,” she says.

Dr Robie says Chinese language media in New Zealand has not yet made a transition from being a media “enclave from China to culturally based media in New Zealand”.

“It will evolve in the future when Chinese media will become a lot more integrated within New Zealand society,” he says.

He also says the New Zealand mainstream media make judgments of other media through “cultural lens” and this could also be a form of propaganda.

Singh says there is biased reporting of the Fiji issue in New Zealand in that only negative stories are played.

But within the community media in New Zealand, he says he would like to “put a positive spin on Fiji”, referring to the Indian Weekender which covers Indian diaspora news, including Fiji.

He says journalists in Fiji can be better educated on how to report for Fiji.

“The political situation now can be partially blamed on the Fiji media,” he says.

Behind the story
“As journalists we really need to see the story behind the issue and investigate these things,” says Singh.

Dr Robie says: “The harm caused to Fiji is already very great.”

He blames New Zealand foreign policies for its “short sightedness” since December 2006.

“The situation in the Pacific is now quite volatile,” he says.

“New Zealand has been like a big brother to Fiji as we pride ourselves as a being part of Pacific.

We now have to report these stories better with more depth and more comprehensively,” says Dr Robie.

Steve Chae is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Pictured: Pro-Chinese rally in Aotea Square, Auckland.

NZ expert tells of Chinese propaganda

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