Word has reached Grubsheet that the embattled former Head of Journalism at the University of the South Pacific, Dr Marc Edge, has left Fiji after losing his job. There’s so far been no official announcement but Fiji Leaks – the suspected blog site of the Oxford-based journalist and academic, Victor Lal – reports that Dr Edge flew out of Nadi for North America on the evening of December 22nd. His reported departure marks the end of an extraordinary episode in the life of USP and its journalism school. It isn’t just the saga of one man’s inability to work with many of his students and colleagues or the way in which his divisive style alienated other regional academic institutions and three Pacific Governments – Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Marc Edge was a very public exponent of the confrontational “publish and be damned” attitude of the Western media. He appears to have seen it as his mission to overturn the more moderate “developmental journalism” favoured by his predecessors and cast himself – especially with his younger students – as a heroic crusader for truth and freedom. Yet by adopting the posture of a zealous journalistic missionary among the ignorant savages, he was the classic square Western peg in a round Pacific hole. He was patronising, arrogant and litigious – having threatened to sue Grubsheet and the Fiji Sun. And in the end, he wound up alienating practically everyone.
Grubsheet’s testy relationship with Dr Edge and our rapier exchanges have been well-documented in these columns and on his own blog. But by the time he left Suva, he’d fallen out with even some of his staunchest supporters. This included his patron saint and head of department at USP, Professor Sudesh Mishra, who’d boldly defied repeated attempts by the University hierarchy to discipline Dr Edge and remove him. A couple of weeks back, the USP held a function to honour those students who had won prestigious regional awards for their journalism in the university newspaper, Wansolwara. By now, the decision had already been made that Dr Edge’s position was untenable and he was telling individual students that he was leaving. But those present were astonished at what happened when Professor Mishra tried to present Dr Edge with a parting gift. He refused to accept it, publicly stated that it was premature and that events the following day might mean he would not be leaving after all. It was an extraordinary snub which left witnesses dumbfounded at Dr Edge’s nonchalance about humiliating a man who had stood by him almost to the bitter end. Precisely what event was meant to save him isn’t clear but with this act, his last vestige of support had crumbled.
So Marc Edge departs, not with the bang that he’d long hoped for but with a whimper. And the USP is left with a string of official complaints about him from his students and formal allegations of professional misconduct by other academics. Presumably, a line has now been drawn under the whole sorry episode. Grubsheet understands that part of Dr Edge’s settlement package includes a confidentiality cause but it will be interesting to see if he honours it. More than once, he’s threatened to write a book about his experiences at USP. Doubtless it will detail how the Mighty Thor of Journalism (see previous posting) was slain by lesser mortals, an evil Fijian dictatorship and the “black arts” practitioners of Qorvis, the Washington-based communications firm that employs Grubsheet in Fiji.
The Canadian-born Dr Edge is convinced that Grubsheet’s criticism of him over the months was part of a “black arts” operation by Qorvis against him. No Marc. You didn’t rate on Washington’s radar at all. Whatever criticism was mine and mine alone. After your blatant public misrepresentation of events at the Pacific Media Summit last March, I was merely one of a number of people who began to have doubts about your fitness to be Head of Journalism at USP. And those doubts solidified as you began to wage war on some of your students and publicly criticised and belittled some of your fellow academics.
USP Journalism isn’t about you and the personality cult you built around yourself. It’s about producing the best possible graduates to improve the standard of Pacific journalism. You became a threat to that, which is ultimately why everyone eventually decided – even your own supporters – that you had to go. Any mourning seems destined to be short-lived. In the closing days of the saga, Dr Edge’s long-suffering deputy, the popular Irene Manueli – who he’d also publicly humiliated at a journalistic gabfest in September – was spotted on the dance floor at Suva’s Bad Dog nightclub. The lovely Manueli – according to Grubsheet’s informants – finally looked as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
A PS TO MY FAITHFUL READERS: This is largely an exercise in tying up a loose end for those of you who have been following this minor feud all year. You’ll have noticed that I haven’t posted for a while. The reason is that I have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to commenting on political matters in Fiji, and especially partisan politics in the lead-up to the election.
I am now spending much of my time in Suva working on the Qorvis account that services the Fijian Government. As you all know, my support for that Government is long-standing and my support for Frank Bainimarama actually precedes the events of 2006. But continuing to express that support while being actively involved in Government naturally leaves me vulnerable to charges of being a polemicist or propagandist rather than an independent commentator.
That does not mean that I can’t comment on other issues and will begin doing so in the New Year. Thanks for your patience and Seasons Greetings to each and every one of you. Here’s to a better 2013 for every Fijian!