A "traversty" alright

A “traversty” alright

There are increasing signs of desperation among the anti-government forces in Fiji as the country moves closer to the introduction of a brand of democracy that they are desperately trying to prevent – a non-racial model of one person, one vote, one value. That sense of desperation has reached fever pitch with the publication of the new Draft Constitution – that specifically stipulates an election in Fiji before the end of September 2014 – and the declaration by Voreqe Bainimarama that he intends to contest the poll. With precious little in the Draft to criticise, the old order in Fiji is in a state of collective meltdown and actively seeking out small targets to kick. How else to explain the accompanying cyber pamphlet currently being circulated on several anti-government blogs that specifically attacks Grubsheet and our connection with the American company, Qorvis Communications?

Qorvis has a contract with the Fijian Government to assist it with the communications component of its program of institutional, electoral and constitutional reform in the lead-up to 2014. Qorvis approached Grubsheet in September 2012 and asked – given our links with Fiji and long-expressed support for the Bainimarama Government’s reform agenda – whether we would be interested in a part-time role in Fiji promoting that agenda. Er, you mean you want to pay us a modest fee to come to Suva and do what we’ve already been doing on Grubsheet for nothing? Sure, why not?

There appears – from this pamphlet – to be a fundamental misunderstanding about Qorvis’s role in Fiji. The company has no influence on policy. Our advice is not given or sought. In the main, we write speeches and news releases at the direction of the leadership team and assist the Ministry of Information in its public information efforts. It is “nuts and bolts” communications work of the kind that any government or company performs as a matter of routine. There is certainly nothing sinister about it, as the accompanying leaflet implies. Grubsheet does not take “the lead role” in Fiji, as this leaflet alleges. The account is run from Washington with input from several members of a Qorvis offshoot – GeoPolitical Solutions – that assists several sovereign clients. Grubsheet is not even on the Qorvis staff so the notion of us taking “a lead role” is fanciful in the extreme. We are just not that important. Our main value to Qorvis is our local knowledge as a Fijian citizen.

The evidence shows that we have not “airbrushed human rights abuses”. Indeed, any instances have been strongly condemned in these columns, though that is not a Qorvis matter either. One of the conditions of accepting our role in Fiji was that Grubsheet, the blog, would continue and that there would be no instruction or direction from either Qorvis or the Fijian Government about either the choices of subjects or the views expressed. Indeed, those views have been remarkably consistent and predate not only our association with Qorvis but Voreqe Bainimarama’s 2006 takeover. We have always said there are three preconditions for our support for the Government. 1/ Its multiracial agenda and a common and equal citizenry in Fiji. 2/ Zero tolerance for corruption. 3/ An election in 2014 on the basis on one person, one vote, one value. This is hardly an agenda to “propagate and legitimise Fiji’s junta”, as this pamphlet alleges, but arguably a blueprint for the first genuine multiracial, “clean” democracy in Fiji’s history. To paraphrase the owner of the Gillette Razor company – “I wouldn’t be doing this commercial if it wasn’t”.

Despite a stream of explanations in the past, this pamphlet continues the deliberate misrepresentation of Grubsheet’s description of ourselves as an “independent journalist”. By independent, we mean that we don’t have a single employer. In other words, we freelance and have multiple income sources. This is the accepted description of any practitioner of the trade not firmly attached to one teat. Indeed, a simple search on LinkedIn – the professional cyber network – will uncover thousands of similar individuals in Grubsheet’s position. It implies no claim of independence of opinion but of professional status.

As mentioned previously, one suspects that this highly personalised attack is part of a final and desperate attempt to cast aspersions on a process leading up to next year’s poll that is clearly working to the disadvantage of the Government’s critics. There is hysteria at almost every turn and not only on traditionally hysterical outlets such as Coup 4.5. The fevered cyber rantings of the likes of Victor Lal and Rajendra Chaudhry point to a fundamental collapse of confidence on the part of the critics that they will eventually prevail. They are not only losing skirmishes and whole battles but are losing the war. The reform process in Fiji is being seen to be in the country’s wider interests and not the interests of certain self-serving individuals.  And so we see – in this crude attack on Grubsheet – the cyber equivalent of kicking the cat in rage and frustration.

One of the most self serving individuals of all is the Canadian academic, Dr Marc Edge, who has belatedly embraced the mantle of anti-government campaigner to mask his forced resignation from the University of the South Pacific for misconduct. Dr Edge posted this pamphlet on his widely unread blog site a full day before it was circulated on other anti-government blogs. We actually suspect that he may have been the author, given his uncorrected use of the word “traversty”. This guy is meant to be a journalist educator, or a journalist “scholar” as he so grandly describes himself. Yet clearly spelling is not his strong suit. No, let’s call this attack on Grubsheet what it is – a genuine travesty – much like the antics of the lamentable cast of manipulators and misfits for whom the fiction of gaining the upper hand in Fiji is far better than the truth of abject failure and irrelevance.