Wednesday, March 05, 2008

James Anthonyn Report a Farce

Wrong man for wrong job

Graham Davis
Tuesday, March 04, 2008-

A police riot squad moves in to break up a procession of strikers at the corner of Princes and Margaret Streets. James Anthony was one of the key figures behind the oil workers strike in 1959+ Enlarge this image

A police riot squad moves in to break up a procession of strikers at the corner of Princes and Margaret Streets. James Anthony was one of the key figures behind the oil workers strike in 1959

There's a new joke doing the rounds about the man at the centre of the storm over his report on the state of the Fiji media.

"You know, Shaista's right, James Anthony is balanced", the gag goes. "He's got a chip on both shoulders!"

As they say, many a true word spoken in jest.

Because anyone who reads the report James Anthony has done for the Fiji Human Rights Commission can see the chips on both shoulders glaring from far too many pages for comfort.

One is an obsession with race, notably his evident distaste for the "white man" who he blames for many of the Fiji media's shortcomings.

The other is his perverse desire to throttle whatever independence the nation's media still has and give the present interim government even more control over the information ordinary people get from their radio, television and newspapers.

How odd that a man who presumably defends the principle of academic freedom should be so opposed to media freedom.

And how scandalous that such a document should emerge from the one public body specifically charged with the defence of the rights of all Fiji citizens.

For its passivity in the face of repeated human rights abuses, many people already regard the Fiji Human Rights Commission as an oxymoronic, Orwellian joke.

Now it's compounded the offence by officially endorsing a report that reeks of racism and would, if implemented by the regime, see journalists charged with sedition for defending the public's right to know.

For that endorsement a day after the shameful deportation, in defiance of a court order, of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter, the Commission's director, Shaista Shameem, deserves the strongest condemnation. She claimed the two events were purely coincidental.

But the fact remains that Dr Shameem showed an appalling lack of judgement when she appointed James Anthony to conduct his inquiry in the first place.

Never mind his glaring lack of media experience, which would have disqualified him from conducting such a sensitive exercise anywhere else.

Even a cursory review of Anthony's career should have sounded alarm bells about his appropriateness for the task.

This is a man with a long history of injudicious behaviour and even more injudicious pronouncements, as those who've witnessed his colourful invective on Fiji Times blogs can easily attest.

As a youthful trade union activist, he was a prime instigator, with Apisai Tora, of an oil workers strike that boiled over into riots in Suva in December, 1959.

The anger was directed at Europeans, with passing cars stoned and businesses like Burns Philp, Morris Hedstrom's and Carpenters attacked and looted.

Those riots were the most violent incidents in Suva's history until the anti Indian violence and street rioting that accompanied the coups of 1987 and 2000.

In 1987, when the deposed Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra held a news conference in Washington, it was reportedly hijacked by James Anthony.

To the embarrassment of Dr Bavadra, Anthony made an extraordinary claim that the American Central Intelligence Agency was behind the 1987 coup.

He even claimed that Americans were with Sitiveni Rabuka when he stormed the parliamentary chamber, a huge surprise to Rabuka himself let alone the many others present on that fateful May day.

He also claimed the Taukei Movement had been given $US 200,000 by an official in the US embassy in Suva, Bill Paupe, for its campaign of agitation against the Bavadra Government.

Anthony's old comrade, Apisai Tora, described this as an "outrageous lie" but it didn't stop James Anthony from branding the respected Paupe a "barefoot Ollie North" after the bagman in the Iran contra scandal of the 1980s.

It emerged later that Anthony was biting the hand he'd once hoped would feed him.

The late Sir Len Usher, in his book Letters from Fiji, details how Bill Paupe had turned down Anthony's application for an American Development Aid grant.

Now, surely if you're going to do an official report into the media financed by the long suffering taxpayer, a history of getting the facts right yourself ought to be the minimum requirement.

Isn't this one of the repeated failings of local journalists the good doctor rails against in his report?

Unfortunately, practicing what he preaches doesn't seem to be James Anthony's strongest point.

But his real crime is far more serious and goes to the heart of his suitability for conducting a supposedly "independent" inquiry of any kind in Fiji.

This is his blatant obsession with race.

It's an issue that's always just below the surface in Fiji but one that Dr Anthony and Shameem have jointly summoned from the murky depths, cloaked in the respectability their positions give them.

Make no mistake.

Whatever the many other failings of this report, the un-attributed claims and allegations, its basic ignorance or misunderstanding of normal media practice, its James Anthony's racial bias that's most notable and disturbing.

The existing Media Council is a "white man's club", eight or nine "white men" control Fiji's media, distort media coverage to suit their business and political agendas and thwart the ambitions of local journalists.

The Fiji media, Anthony concludes, is no place for white men and their work permits should be cancelled.

Anthony is particularly harsh on the Media Council's chairman, Daryl Tarte, whose lifetime of service to the industry and the country is trashed.

But as well as his pejorative references to the "white man", Anthony vents his disdain for anyone or anything associated with foreign business interests.

Never mind the interdependence of the global economy and the fact that foreign investment is vital to Fiji's success.

No, for James Anthony, white men are invariably exploiters who essentially belong elsewhere and should be tolerated in the Pacific only under the most stringent conditions.

Surely a strange view for a non-indigenous Pacific islander to hold.

The anti-capitalist part of the tirade can be expected from someone with a lifetime of trade union activism behind him and the cosy sinecure of academia to help him pay his bills.

But where did James Anthony learn to hate the white man so much?

With his background as a part Indo- Fijian, you might think he'd be more understanding of a minority position.

But Anthony seems to share a strong anti European streak with many leftist, trade union aligned Indo-Fijians currently enjoying the indulgence of the interim government.

Understandably, some of this can be traced back to the independence struggle against the British in India, the spirit of which took root in those agitating for Fiji independence in the 1950s and 60s.

One of these, of course, was James Anthony.

Yet having got what he wanted, he continues, nearly 40 years on, to blame the country's problems on neo-colonialism and the white man.

We've all seen the furore that erupts when Fijian nationalist extremists say Indo-Fijians really belong back in India.

Yet in a monumental case of double standards, Fiji Europeans are seemingly regarded as fair game.

Suddenly, many Fiji Europeans are feeling uncomfortable, even threatened.

In his formal response to the Anthony report, William Parkinson, the head of Communications Fiji Limited, summed up a general view when he accused James Anthony of displaying "naked, racist hatred".

"As a member of a minority community in Fiji, I am very concerned at the manner in which the European community has been referred to in this report and the way in which senior members of our community have been maligned in a racist and vicious manner. I find it incredible that the FHRC would put their name to a document that exhibits this racist tone particularly at a time when the FHRC and the interim government is vigorously promoting multiculturalism and an end to racial division in public life".

Driving such sentiment is an uncomfortable suspicion.

In 21st century Fiji, is it now to be a case of Fiji for the Taukei, the Indians, the Chinese, the Kailoma, the Rotumans, the Banabans and the Kaisolomoni, but not the Kaivalagi? That's the implication, at least, of the Human Rights Commission's official endorsement of such a racially charged document.

James Anthony's attitudes are all the more puzzling considering his own European background.

He's a direct descendent of one of the pillars of British colonial rule, the lawyer, Legislative Councillor and former mayor of Suva, Sir Henry Scott.

Anthony owes his lineage to a "liaison" between Sir Henry Scott and James Anthony's grandmother, an Indian domestic staff member named Minnie employed in the rambling Scott mansion at Flagstaff.

The product of that relationship, while yet to be confirmed by DNA testing, was Anthony's mother, Angelina.

So as things stand, Sir Henry Scott was James Anthony's grandfather, making him also closely related to all the other Scotts who've been prominent in Fiji's national life.

They include Sir Henry's equally famous son, Sir Maurice Scott, plus the next generation, the murdered Fiji Red Cross director John Scott and his bother, Owen, the New Zealand resident author who's recorded the family's colourful history in his book Deep Beyond the Reef.

The pity is that whatever bugs him, he should never have been given an official platform by Shaista Shameem to vent his prejudices when so much is at stake for Fiji.

And the tragedy is that his flawed recommendations should now be before a military government more eager than ever to shoot the messenger rather than address its own shortcomings.

Yes, the Fiji media could unquestionably be improved and local journalists be given better training.

But forget about the tevoro unmasked with great fanfare in the Anthony Report, the " white men" who allegedly control what we all see and read in Fiji.

The real threat to freedom of information comes from the ideas of James Anthony contained in his report and endorsed by Shaista Shameem.

- Graham Davis is a Fiji born journalist who's a principal in the Australian company Grubstreet Media

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