Pacific Media Watch

15 April 2019

FIJI: Malolo investigation: ‘That’s why you need journalism’

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Melanie Reid at a protest by Solevu villagers near the Malolo Island resort development in Fiji. Image: Hayden Aul//Newsroom

AUCKLAND (Newsroom/Pacific Media Watch): Newsroom published a three-part investigation into environmental destruction on Malolo Island, Fiji, last week.

Co-editor Tim Murphy discussed with journalist Melanie Reid the background to the story and why a stop being put on a big tourism resort matters.

Three Newsroom journalists were earlier this month arrested and detained overnight by Fiji police and were then released and treated to an apology and tea with the Prime Minister, Voreqe Baimimarama.

READ MORE: No new era of press freedom in Fiji

Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull were held overnight at the main Suva police station after Chinese developer Freesoul Real Estate accused them of criminal trespass.

This Newsroom interview was published at the weekend. Pacific Media Watch carries a short extract here - read the full interview at Newsroom:

Why did you take on this particular story?
I started investigating it in December last year and did the first story in February.

The environment, the misuse of power, and the mistreatment of the vulnerable are all high on my radar and this story had all those aspects.

The Chinese resort developers, Freesoul, were running roughshod, had no permits, and had dug out 100m of reef, reclaimed foreshore, cut through sensitive mangrove forest, to name a few situations - all without environmental approval. The people of Solevu village had no voice and no ability to stop them and the people who did have the ability to stop them were doing nothing. The extent to which Freesoul had subverted the Fijian institutions and the law was remarkable.

There is an Environmental Management Act enacted in 2005 to stop this sort of thing. There'd been inspections, but nothing was done, even after the four stop-work orders issued by Native Lands, Director for the Environment and the Director of  Lands in June 2018 - the developers just carried on.

What people don’t realise is how you kept hold of your phone at the police station?
Well at the point when the police asked for our phones, watches and everything we had ... I had a computer bag and it had all my notebooks and some sound equipment in it so I was like ... shit ... so I told them it was going to be easier for everyone concerned if I gave my entire bag to the lawyer who had come down to represent us as he was about to leave. I was escorted by police out to the car with the lawyer to ensure he had taken my bag and on the way I stuffed my phone down my bra. One of the benefits of a top-heavy arsenal.

The Prime Minister and government have moved pretty fast now, after nearly a year of inaction, it seems the development has been stopped. So the stories obviously prompted this?

True. And that’s why you need journalism.

Multimedia Newsroom investigation:
Part 1: Surfers who helped stop disaster

Part 2: The villagers cry 'enough'

Part 3: From jail to Parliament - and a result

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