The Australian national broadcaster – ABC – belatedly follows the Times of London, The Australian, the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand in reporting the sex and drugs scandal involving Lynda Tabuya and Aseri Radrodro that has enveloped the Coalition government and threatens both their political careers.
It highlights the instruction to Grubsheet last week by the Australian government’s eSafety Commissioner to remove “intimate images” that Lynda Tabuya sent Aseri Radrodro from Room 233 of Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel, along with text messages referring to “brutal” sex between the two, expressions of affection and most controversially, references to Tabuya having “plenty of weed” (marijuana) and Aseri Radrodro telling her ” can you stop the weed please”.
The ABC story – written by its Fiji reporter Lice Movono – parrots the now familiar line by Lynda Tabuya that the material is “fake” without reporting that Grubsheet was told by the eSafety Commissioner that the reason it was issuing its instruction was because we didn’t have Lynda Tabuya’s consent to publish it. By any reasoned analysis, that is an implicit acknowledgement that the material is genuine. And it is certainly being treated that way by the Disciplinary Sub-Committee of the People’s Alliance that is holding an official inquiry into the allegations against the Minister for Women, Children and Social Protection.
One astonishing aspect to the ABC story are comments made by someone who Grubsheet has crossed swords with before – the one-time Fiji resident, Jon Fraenkel, who is Professor of Comparative Politics at Victoria University in Wellington. (The ABC refers to him as “Jon Fraenke” but they are one and the same.)
Here’s Professor Fraenkel’s take on the affair:
“Some individuals have been shocked and horrified by this story. But for me, I do think (these) kind of things are best kept out of politics.”
“I mean, obviously both of those two politicians have to think carefully about their own relationships, but as far as the public scrutiny is concerned, I think it’s been really quite disgraceful the way that some (have) sort of seized on this and gone about it, particularly against Ms Tabuya.”
“Whether it’s true or not, these kinds of things are best kept as private matters and there should be more attention I think to (their) qualities as a minister.”
Oh really? Jon Fraenkel skips over the genuine public interest component of this story by ignoring some of the central facts.
1/ On September 4 last year, Sitiveni Rabuka issued a public statement saying that he had been assured by both ministers that they had not been conducting an affair, he accepted their denials and he asked the Fijian people to stop spreading the rumours of the liaison and move on. There is hard evidence that Lynda Tabuya and Aseri Radrodro lied to the Prime Minister and he, in turn, misled the Fijian people. Evidently Jon Fraenkel doesn’t think this is a problem. Though in New Zealand, where he lives, and Britain, where he originally comes from, it would be a very big problem indeed and would almost certainly trigger the resignation or dismissal of any politician who lied to the leader of the government and the people to whom they are accountable.
2/ Jon Fraenkel skips over the hypocrisy of Lynda Tabuya being the principal anti-pornography crusader in Fiji and yet sharing pornographic images of herself and the hypocrisy of being a prominent anti-drugs campaigner and evidently a marijuana user. These too would result in the resignation or dismissal of any politician in New Zealand and the UK or any other democracy.
3/ Jon Fraenkel acknowledges the potential of the scandal to “rock (Fiji’s) Coalition government”. Unfortunately there is not much rocking in Fiji itself. This story has been largely confined to the international media and the two principal news-commentary pages outside Fiji – Victor Lal’s Fijileaks and Grubsheet. Despite the much heralded new era of media freedom in Fiji, most media outlets have given the scandal little or no coverage and certainly haven’t covered the specific allegations. And in the case of the Fiji Times, there has been wilful manipulation of the story, which in itself makes this a matter of legitimate public concern.
“Some individuals have been shocked and horrified by this story”, says Jon Fraenkel. True. But for him, “I do think (these) kinds of things are best kept out of politics”. Oh really? Lying to the Prime Minister, lying to the people, gross hypocrisy. You’re right, Professor. “These are things best kept out of politics”, though not in the way you mean. Indeed, keeping them out of politics is precisely why this story deserves every single column inch in the print media and every single minute of broadcast coverage, which has been scandalously lacking in Fiji and makes a mockery of the notion of “media freedom” under the Coalition. With the gag of the previous government’s restrictions lifted, the Fijian media still isn’t doing its job of reporting without fear or favour.
It isn’t until the end of the ABC story that we get a glimpse of the Professor’s true agenda in playing down the seriousness of the Tabuya- Radrodro scandal. Jon Fraenkel says the Coalition government “is absolutely critical to the future of Fiji” so the sex and drugs scandal “should die down and go away” so that “Fiji can get back to concentrating on the important issues”.
Yes, those issues don’t include politicians lying, cheating, taking drugs and the woeful double standards, hypocrisy and lack of accountability and transparency that have been the central features of this scandal. For Jon Fraenkel, they don’t matter as much as saving a government that is “absolutely critical to the future of Fiji”.
Partisan political nonsense from a supposedly independent commentator that is typical of far too many of the Coalition’s supporters, who are willing to turn a blind eye to conduct that they know would not be acceptable anywhere else and should not be acceptable in Fiji.