The controversial Dr Marc Edge – Head of the School of Journalism at the University of the South Pacific – clings to his job by his fingernails after his recent disastrous “Media and Democracy” conference that led to official protests and open conflict with his fellow academics. Grubsheet understands that the USP has triggered formal internal disciplinary proceedings that could lead to the dismissal of the Canadian-born academic. He has evidently been given a formal warning after three Pacific Governments – Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – complained about him linking the alleged lack of democracy in those countries to repressive regimes in the Middle East (see previous posting).
Dr Edge’s relationships with his fellow academics at other media institutions are also in free fall. At the Media and Democracy conference two weeks ago, he was in open conflict with Professor David Robie, Director of the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland’s University of Technology, and with Shailendra Singh, his predecessor as head of journalism at USP. Both men publicly accused him of misrepresenting the university’s journalism program.
Dr Edge is keen to portray the schism as ideological, a battle of ideas between his advocacy of a relatively liberal western media model for Fiji and the “deliberative” model publicly advocated by Professor Robie and the “development” model advocated by Mr Singh. Both models call for more context and cooperation in third world media settings as opposed to the confrontational tendencies of the western media. But the chief concerns of his critics centre on Dr Edge’s personal style, his tendency to blatant self-aggrandisement at the expense of his colleagues and especially his behaviour towards his students.
His treatment of one student, in particular, threatens to become an international incident. Magalie Tingal is a journalist with Radio Djido, the indigenous Kanak station that tops the radio ratings in New Caledonia. She was sent to USP under an agreement between the university and the FLNKS – the Kanak independence movement – designed to improve ties between Francophone journalists in New Caledonia and their Anglophone counterparts in Fiji. Yet she appears to have fallen foul of Dr Edge, so much so that his alleged treatment of her has become a cause celebre on the USP campus.
Fellow students report that the feisty Ms Tingal began to question the basis of some of Dr Edge’s lectures. He reportedly responded at first with irritation then disdain and finally barely concealed rage. Matters have since come to a head after Dr Edge failed Ms Tingal in her course. English is Ms Tingal’s third language after Kanak and French and her supporters argue that Dr Edge should have taken that into account. Instead, he evidently marked her to “English as a first language” standard. The episode has caused intense consternation on campus and embarrassed the USP. What was meant to be an exercise in building links between Anglophone and Francophone neighbours, and between the university and the FLNKS, has instead ended in acrimony.
The USP hierarchy is dismayed that Dr Edge appears to have single-handedly damaged the university’s relations with Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the prospective rulers of New Caledonia. So never mind the breakdown of personal relationships between Dr Edge and his students and fellow academics. The finger of blame is descending on him for fracturing some precious diplomatic ties, and with some countries on which the USP’s very existence depends.
Grubsheet has had a prolonged dispute with Dr Edge that has been comprehensively chronicled in these columns. At first, we took issue with his portrayal of conflict at the Pacific Islands News Association summit earlier in the year where we believed none existed. Then we asked for an explanation as to why he chose to appear in a Fiji Times advertorial promoting the virtues of the Suva apartment building in which he lives. We specifically asked whether Dr Edge – as a USP academic – received any personal benefit or consideration from the owners of the apartment block in exchange for a blatant commercial plug. He’s consistently refused to provide us with an answer to a question we regard as one of journalistic ethics. And when we repeated that question yesterday, his response was a succinct “drop dead”.
Dr Edge has also revealed in these columns that he is writing a book on the Fiji media. He announces the fact in a comment on our previous posting, “Rumblings at the Edgefest” with a strange expression of glee. “Just wait until I write my book on the Fiji media. You’re going to love it!” “Just wait”? Is this the portent of a day of reckoning, of our “hero” settling some scores? Yes, Marc, we can’t wait. All we can do is hope that you will soon have all the time in the world in which to write your book. Because it’s high time for you to board that yacht of yours – the stories about which your students are bored to distraction– and sail away from these shores. You aren’t cut out for the place and to follow is the proof – the final straw.
Grubsheet understands that Dr Edge took to locking his students out of the classroom if they arrived late for his lectures. Lateness is a common enough occurrence in the islands and especially for students on pitifully low incomes who have to walk long distances or catch a bus. So it wasn’t long before Dr Edge’s students lodged complaints with the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Law and Education, Dr Akanisi Kedrayate. She formally directed him to cease the practice. What was Dr Edge’s response? He sent his students the following angry email, which ends with an extraordinary and menacing threat. (click on image to see full document)
Marc, threatening reprisals against students in a developing country because they are late is not the Pacific way or any way, for that matter. It is now time for you to go back to Canada and write that book of yours. As Oliver Cromwell famously said to the Rump Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!
Graham Davis is now a part-time advisor to Qorvis Communications.