In researching the torture video story for the online Global Mail in Australia, Lagan apparently decided to check out the coverage on some of Fiji's news websites.
|Chief Propagandist Peter Lomas of the Fiji Sun|
"At lunchtime on Wednesday, on the paper’s website, the five top-placed stories all concerned the current tour of Fiji’s north by the Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The tone of each would surely sweeten the most vinegary of government spin-doctors. The first headline read: “Why PM in North: Listening to People, Responding to Needs". Those following were equally heartwarming. Among them: “PM Hands Over Home”; “PM Promises New School Block”; and “PM Commends Military”. Most were accompanied by a rather wooden photo of the leader listening, responding, handing over or commending."Lagan has only just discovered what those of us who read the Sun regularly have known for years. The once-proud daily relentlessly promotes the military dictatorship. It also vigilantly smears anyone who dares to even question any move made by the Bainmarma junta.
That's what happened to me, of course, as soon as I began speaking out against the appalling level of Fiji journalism and advocating for press freedom there. Before long, I was gone from Fiji. Am I sore? You're damn right I'm sore. I'm about as sore as those poor bastards in the video. Does that mean I'm biased against the Sun? Maybe it does. It would be hard not to be after the kind of treatment I received on its pages. But I went to Fiji completely neutral on the issues that embroil the media there. I wanted to meet all the players and hear them argue their positions personally before I made my mind up about anything. Sun publisher Peter Lomas and editor Epineri Vula were two of the first journalists I met there, over lunch at J.J.'s on the Park. (Peter picked up the tab.)
Having done some research, I played dumb as they sung the praises first of Kiwi blogger Crosbie Walsh, then of Minfo dominatrix Sharon Smith-Johns, pointing out that she was a veteran of Australian newspapers. I could hold my tongue no longer by then and pointed out that, far from coming from a background in journalism, she was from the advertising side of the business. "How did you know that?" spluttered Lomas, his mouth agape. It's called research, Peter, and there's a lot more where that came from.
Lagan traces the Sun's demise as a serious news organisation to the 2008 deportation of publisher Russell Hunter after he dared to run a story about a minister’s failure to pay his taxes.
Quoth Lagan: "Since then, The Sun has shone more reliably from the Commodore’s rear."
Now it's Lomas who is sore.
"Your column on Fiji and the Fiji Sun is unfortunately a long way from the truth," Lomas protested in a comment on the Global Mail story. "You rely too much on Marc Edge as an informant."
There he is mistaken. I wasn't a source for the story at all. The first I heard of it was when someone unknown to me (not Lagan) sent me a link to it. The story merely mentions this blog favorably in its final few paragraphs.
Like me, Lagan was hard-pressed to find any coverage of the torture video on the Sun's website, noting that it had "pretty much managed to look the other way." Lomas claimed otherwise.
"The Fiji Sun had similar front page coverage of the "beating video" to the Fiji Times, despite claims by you and Edge that it did not. The day you refer to we had coverage and comment on pages 1, 2, and 3. It included the mother's tearful reaction and photo as the front page, just as the Fiji Times had. Anyone who makes claims such as you and Edge do is just plain wrong and out of touch on Fiji."
The appointment of Lomas as Sun publisher in early 2009 brought a sea change in the newspaper's coverage of government. From a vigorous watchdog of government under Hunter, it suddenly became a devoted lapdog of the Bainimarama regime.
The blogs quickly noticed. "The Fiji Sun is sounding like someone who's taken a heavy dose of Valium," quipped Fiji Democracy Now in April of that year. The newspaper that had been named the best of the year in 2008 and once featured award-winning investigative reporting from journalists such as Victor Lal, had become strangely quiescent, noted Raw Fiji News.
"But all that has changed with the appointment of a new publisher, Peter Lomas, who has no doubt shown a liking to Frank's junta. Fiji Sun's content has not only become another boring one-sided propaganda newspaper for Frank but they have even gone as far as congratulating Frank's appointments."
"And to Peter Lomas, Veejay Narayan, Riyaz Khaiyum and those who have chosen to jump into bed with the dictators, remember you will be judged by your Karma when judgment day comes. From your current and consistent action of bootlicking, you people have earned your passport to hell. "