While Fiji is in the midst of a COVID crisis, the Government has turned its attention to a war of words with Australia’s national broadcaster following a report on the ABC Pacific Beat program that claimed a brawl at Jittu Estate in Suva was a sign of wider social unrest.
Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum speaking to Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, (FBC) said that the story was fanned by Fijians who were misrepresenting the reality on the ground.
Fiji’s AG Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: Twitter
“We all know that was not social unrest because of food. Some politicians have made it out to be.
“This is what happens when you have desktop journalism taking place from off-shore.”
Pacific Beat claimed in their story posted last week that “the police said drunken youths were to blame, but local reports said it was sparked by the theft of food crops in an atmosphere where people are anxious about feeding their families.”
Pacific Beat interviewed social workers who were quoted claiming “people were becoming increasingly stressed and angry.”
Risk consultancy firm Fitch Solutions has pointed to the increased risk of social unrest in its latest outlook for Fiji, ABC reported.
Fitch’s Anwita Basu said the key livelihoods of average Fijians was at risk.
“It is a tourism-dependent market, and the country was hoping to reopen especially to neighbouring New Zealand and Australia, and that’s where we see the risks coming from mostly,” Ms Basu told Pacific Beat.
FBC reported that “Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Director Ashwin Raj says the incident at the squatter settlement over the weekend should not be used to create a false image of Fiji.
“It’s highly irresponsible and premature of the ABC to take a street brawl in an informal settlement and from there deduce based on some local reports.”
The Fijian Media Association General Secretary, Stanley Simpson has also called out the ABC saying irresponsible journalism at this time can be dangerous.
“Linking that to social wider unrest is not responsible reporting especially in these very challenging and difficult times. We’ve established the facts, that it was a disagreement and confusion among youths.”
However an ABC spokesperson defended the story, telling FBC that they verified the claims made in its reporting with multiple firsthand sources in Jittu Estate.
The spokesperson added that they also quoted a number of different organisations about the potential for unrest in Fiji, including a historian who didn’t think that the unrest would lead to the current Government being toppled.
While the Government appears to be sensitive about international reporting, its troubles are worsening at home, with the nation’s Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services Dr James Fong announcing 241 new COVID cases on Tuesday June 29. Two COVID related deaths were also reported as the country faces a catastrophe, admitting there is “widespread” community transmission.
Only 49 per cent of the target population have received the first dose of the vaccination with just over six percent fully vaccinated.
It is unknown if the general population truly comprehend the magnitude of the current crisis, as while Fiji’s media outlets cover the COVID updates, there is little urgency in the reporting and no critique of the Government’s response. Local media operate under the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree, which was turned into a law in 2018.
The decree allows for harsh punishments for journalists whose work is deemed against the “public interest or order”. Offences against the decree are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to two years, while the penalty for any company which commits an offence may be as high as $100,000.