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Panpa Bulletin : August September 2007
12 PANPA Bulletin August-September 2007 news Many Fijian journalists found it difficult to remain professional during the 2000 coup by George Speight because of the strong cultural ties with supporters of the coup leader, accord- ing to research. Christine Gounder of Pacific Radio News, Auckland, in a paper just published in the Pacific Journalism Review found most of the 13 Fijian journalists she questioned admit- ted suffering from the Stockholm syndrome during the coup. Stockholm syndrome describes the behaviour of kidnap victims or people who associate closely with the captors becoming sympathetic to their captors over time. In this case, many of the reporters spent a lot of time with Speight in the rebel-held parliament buildings, even to the extent of eating food supplied by the rebels and their supporters. Parliament was where the action was, in the view of the journalists. While in the parliament buildings, some lo- cal journalists found relatives there too but as supporters of Speight. As a result, said Gounder, some journal- ists began to "sway" towards Speight or be- gan to experience the Stockholm syndrome. This was reflected in their stories, she said. On the other hand, many of the overseas journalists who flew in to cover the crisis were labelled "parachute journalists" by the local media. While a few local journalists commended the investigative reports of the "parachute journalists", others said that the foreigners did not understand the culture or complexities of Fiji's political situation. Given this experience, the frequency of coups in Fiji, and migration of many experi- enced journalists and editors, Gounder sug- gests creation of a crisis manual. This would help young, inexperienced journalists learn from mistakes made in the past and so bet- ter deal with crisis reporting. Guidelines in the crisis manual could include not staying too long with the coup leaders/supporters but taking regular breaks, avoiding words that would give credibility or legitimacy to hostage takers and not giving anyone connected with the rebels a voice on radio, Gounder suggests. The foreign media, Gounder says, should avoid parachute journalism and inaccurate reporting due to failure to understand the culture and the complex political systems. They could do this by attaching them- selves to local media outlets where they would be able to check with the local journalists to verify facts and correct any misconceptions or misunderstandings of the culture. Government sources dominant in coverage of the Fijian coups By Warren Page Government sources figured promi- nently as news sources for Australian newspapers during the Fijian coups in 1987 and 2000. Research by Anthony Mason, of the University of Canberra, as published in the latest Pacific Journalism Review, found this result to be in line with other academic research on sources in the news. The result shows that the reporting relied primarily on sources from the main institutions in society, particularly the government. "This reliance on elite sources increases the likelihood that the reporting reinforces the status quo," said Mason. "It provides a limited version of the reality of the situation." Mason examined 419 articles and news sources used by The Australian, The Canberra Times, and The Sydney Morning Herald during the first week of the coups. Mason also interviewed 15 newspaper, news agency, radio and television journal- ists who covered the coups. Government sources represented 44.7 per cent of the 16 type of sources identi- fied, and of these 43.4 per cent were the Australian government. The military and police made up 11.1 per cent of the sources. Tourism/business represented 6.8 per cent. Of the top 20 sources, identified in an- other table by job title, 14 were government representatives. Access to sources in 1987 was obviously limited, thanks largely to military controls. The military held the government hos- tage, shut down the local media, imposed road blocks and curfews and in some cases harassed journalists. As well, the Governor General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was unwilling to make any public statement. In the George Speight coup of 2000 there were no road blocks or curfews, the local media remained open, Speight was media- friendly, and the military understood the importance of the media and made itself available. Given ongoing troubles in Fiji and else- where across the Pacific, Mason concluded that it was critical for the media to gain a deeper understanding of those societies on our doorstep. The front-line journalists have a lot of freedom to cover the story the way they want to, said Mason, but the impact of their stories, of their expertise, of their under- standing and contacts is swamped by the coverage from home and elsewhere. Half of the stories studied in the research were written by journalists in Australia, and of the 128 journalists who had stories about the coup attributed to them, 57 per cent wrote just one story and 18 per cent wrote two. Mason calls for a more committed and focused interest in reporting the Pacific. At the least the media need to commit to giving journalists more time on the ground in places like Fiji so as to get to know the social and political structures, rather than sending crews in times of crisis. Journalists too, said Mason, need to understand the fundamentally cultural nature of journalism and be disengaged from allegiances to one nation, one culture or one institution. Fijian journalists story slanting allegations By Warren Page George Speight