Pacific Media Watch

3 August 2010

FIJI: Foreign Correspondent profile on regime leader

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At home with Fiji's strongman

Philippa McDonald

Uncensored: Frank Bainimarama talks to Foreign Correspondent (ABC News)

6949 SUVA: On the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiji's interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama says there is no place at the table for for Australia and New Zealand.

In recent weeks Fiji's military dictator has been making it known he is no fan of the Australian government.

He has expelled a second senior diplomat from Suva and even threatened to shut down the Australian High Commission in Suva.

At the same time though, Commodore Bainimarama has invited the ABC's Foreign Correspondent into his home to show he is not just a military dictator.

The military strongman of Fiji rarely speaks to foreign journalists, but at his grandson's fifth birthday party Commodore Bainimarama was showing he is a relaxed family man.

"We are shown in TV, in the papers everyday as dictators, dictators in the sense that [we are] going around abusing the power that we have. That doesn't happen here," he said.

"I am a military man but what does dictator mean to you?"

It is more than three-and-a-half years since Commodore Bainimarama took control of Fiji in a military coup.

Last year he scrapped the constitution. Now he is ruling Fiji by a series of decrees and he has largely managed to silence his critics in the Methodist Church and the Great Council of Chiefs.

"I keep harping about bringing the changes and we can't bring about changes if there are people that are still talking about bringing in instability," he said.

"Because if we do that, I can tell you we open this to the public, we'll never have an election in 2014. I tell you that. That I can guarantee you."

Yet Commodore Bainimarama still wants to been seen as a man of the people.

Fiji's media is censored, but he has allowed Foreign Correspondent in to film the censors at work in one of Fiji's major daily newspapers.

His recent ban on foreign ownership of the media means the News Limited-owned Fiji Times is set to close within two months, but Commodore Bainimarama is unapologetic.

"I'll be glad that people like the Fiji Times will no longer be here," he said.

"We'll have our ownership of the papers, so we'll have at least some support for what we're trying to do."

But as Pacific leaders meet in Vanuatu this week, Commodore Bainimarama will not be there.

Fiji has been suspended from the forum. And if he had his way, Australia and New Zealand would not be represented either.

"You are metropolitan powers. When you vote in the UN, you vote for different issues altogether," he said.

"When you take us to go and talk about climate change, you're fighting on a different base, you're fighting for something else, not us."

Meanwhile, Australia continues to urge Fiji to return to democracy and Commodore Bainimarama is not ruling out running for prime minister,
come his promised elections in 2014. - ABC News/Pacific Media Watch

* Foreign Correspondent website - full interview "Fiji - Frank, uncensored" on ABC1 at 8pm tonight.


Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons