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14 June 2013

VIDEO: BBC refuses apology to Fiji after documentary upsets regime

This is the full Panorama documentary that aired last week. Video: BBC.

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): The Fijian regime has attacked BBC following an investigative programme in the United Kingdom last week where the broadcaster showed footage of Conservative Member of Parliament Patrick Mercer accepting money from a fictitious consultancy firm.

BBC journalist Daniel Foggo admits having “used Fiji”, but refuses to apologise, arguing that the BBC has “not put anything further into the public domain that’s not already there,” according to Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

MP Patrick Mercer announced before the programme aired that he was resigning from his position in the Conservative Party and that he would not stand for re-election.

Negatively portrayed
Panorama painted a bleak picture of Fiji, stating that the military junta in the country is responsible for the lack of tourists there while the BBC reporter was visiting.

“The army’s been in charge here since toppling the democratic government in 2006. Army chief Frank Bainimarama became Prime Minister and as a result Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth,” reporter Daniel Foggo stated in the documentary.

“The effect that Bainimarama’s had on Fiji has been mainly negative. He’s totally destroyed all semblance of democracy. What we see is a total dictatorship in Fiji,” general secretary of the Fiji Sugar and General Workers’ Union Felix Anthony said in the programme.

Foggo told Radio Australia that Fiji was chosen for this particular episode of Panorama, titled Cash For Questions Undercover, because of its questionable human rights record.

Because of this record, British MPs wanting to make a deal with a lobbyist representing Fiji would consequently look worse than if the lobbyist was representing a country with a cleaner human rights record.

The object of the programme was to “see how far lobbyists with money to spend can infiltrate Parliament trying to get MPs and peers to bend the rules.”

The outcome of the programme was one MP ousted from his party and one Pacific country deeply offended.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was interviewed by Auckland Hindi station Radio Tarana earlier this week and made it clear that he did not appreciate the BBC programme.

“We got dragged in through no fault of our own. Now I’m happy that the British media expose this MP. But I’m not happy about having Fiji’s reputation dragged through the mud,” Bainimarama told the radio station.

The Fijian Prime Minister was provoked by what he refers to as a “British government minister” who got up in the House of Commons in London and spoke negatively about the Melanesian country.

“He kept going on about the lack of democracy and human rights and so on and so on. For Pete’s sake, we’re having an election next year. We have half a million people registered to vote. We have all the big political parties taking part. That is democracy. [The minister is] totally ignorant about the real situation in Fiji, as I said. The whole thing was very disappointing and unfair,” Bainimarama said.

The fake consultancy firm that BBC reporter Daniel Foggo set up in the Panorama documentary sought to lobby MPs to get Fiji back into the Commonwealth, something which was denied Fiji following the 2006 coup.

The reporter, who successfully portrayed himself as a lobbyist, argued when meeting MP Patrick Mercer that both the sugar and tourism industries have been hit by Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth.

The fake firm therefore wanted to pay Mercer to be its consultant, so he could front Fiji’s reintroduction to the Commonwealth.

Mercer agreed and suggested an arrangement whereby he would charge UK 2000 pounds ($NZ 3908) for working two full days as a consultant for the firm a month.

He characterised that as a low price for consultancy. 

Daniel Foggo and the BBC are unrepentant about how they have used Fiji in their programme. He distances himself from Bainimarama’s comments.

“We didn’t say we were representing the Fijian government. We said we were representing a conglomeration of business interests in Fiji which we never named, so Fiji’s name was even more incidental because of that,” Foggo said in an interview with Radio Australia earlier this week before underlining that the BBC has only used things that are in the public domain and that they therefore will not apologise to Fiji for the programme.

“If he [Prime Minister Bainimarama] doesn’t like that being repeated, well, I’m sorry about that, but perhaps elections could have been more forthcoming than now. That might have helped,” Foggo said.

He doubts the programme will have a lasting negative impact on Fiji, but stresses that he thinks Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama should be more concerned with the country’s human rights record.

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Daniel Drageset

PMW contributing editor 2013

Daniel Drageset is a Norwegian radio journalist who graduated with a Master in Communication Studies degree at AUT University.