Pacific Media Centre
A New Zealand-based Pacific radio network has moved to defuse a controversy over a Fijian-language interview critical of the Methodist Church and alleged involvement of some leading clergy in past coups.
Pacific Media Network acting chief executive Tom Etuata told Pacific Media Centre reporter Pippa Brown today that the ban on experienced broadcaster Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu-Legge had been lifted after she had been suspended off air following last month’s wide-ranging interview with Citizens’ Constitutional Forum executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki.
Yabaki also spoke about the abrogation of the Fiji constitution, censorship of the media and freedom of expression in the June 6 broadcast, but the programme's criticism of the Methodist Church in the wake of the regime’s cancellation of the annual conference drew three written complaints to Radio NiuFM/531pi.
The controversy was picked up by the independent media watchdog blog Café Pacific.
Etuata said the radio tried to achieve balance in its programmes.
“She was suspended only from one programme, not from work,” he said. “She is still being employed as an announcer while we investigate and get an independent translation because we did get a number of complaints.
“Our community radio aims to provide both views of the topic and provide balance as a responsible broadcaster on air.”
Bulou Amalaini said the off air suspension was “very unfair”.
She denied claims by complainants that she was a supporter of regime leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, saying little information was coming out of Fiji and she had been trying to provide more insight and research into political developments.
Formerly of Radio Fiji and with 25 years’ broadcasting experience,” Bulou Amalaini said: “People are too scared to talk, but Rev Yabaki was not too scared to be interviewed.”
Rev Yabaki, who is an outspoken champion of human and constitutional rights in Fiji, spoke about the Methodist Church after the banning of the conference, saying Fiji’s largest and most influential religious institution was “in disarray”.
“If you look at the history of the stand that the Methodist Church has taken in the past 20 years, you will note that it supported the first coup of 1987 and also George Speight’s coup in the year 2000,” he said.
“But it opposed the coup of 2006 because it believes that Fiji should be governed by Fijians, who are their members, as if it were their divine right.
“This was the case when Dr Timoci Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party won the general elections of 1987 and 1999.”
One complainant to 531pi/Niu FM said: “It would have been fair ... if Ligalevu [had interviewed] a member of the church in New Zealand or an official of the church in Fiji on matters concerning the church.
“But to do exactly the opposite does not only degrade the biggest domination in Fiji but also angers the members of the church who are in New Zealand.”
Bulou Amalaini said she had been told by the station management that "the interview was good but it was not balanced - that I should have interviewed somebody from the Methodist Church as well".
She said Fijian programme producer Nemai Vucago had asked the head of the Fiji Methodist congregration in New Zealand, Rev Peni Tikoinaka, to speak on the programme but he had declined because he said he was not "fully versed" over the issue.
Another Methodist clergyman was also asked but declined.
Rev Yabaki told the PMC that Bulou Analaini had been dealt a "raw deal" by the radio station "in a manner that lacks transparency".
He said she had been denied a hearing involving the three complaints.
Pictured: Broadcaster Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu-Legge (top) and the CCF's Rev Akuila Yabaki.
Niu FM - Pacific Media Network
Full text of Rev Akuila Yabaki interview
Veteran Fiji broadcaster gagged on Pacific radio