head-slap astonishing: fusimalohi forever!

  by jason brown, editor, avaiki nius agency


As is common across the world, death brings forgiveness. Pacific Islands are no different, nor, apparently, are regional media.

Famous for spicy, free-for-all debates across the defamation spectrum, Pacific Islands journalists roll over like roti, soggy and oily ones, when there is a death in the media family.


Such was the early evidence this week, with plaudits piling in for one-time broadcasting chief and latter-day reform convert, Tavake Fusimalohi.

For most of his long career, Fusimalohi was rabidly apologist for the ruling monarchy in the Kingdom of Tonga. Many memories of him at regional media bashes are closer to Death Star than Media Star.

Even so, journalists like long-time trainer Peter Lomas wrote a glowing letter, rather than a fair and balanced report about the Tongan tyro. So, is it important for islands media to maintain cool distance - palagi style, perhaps - assessing the legacy of those who pass on in the Pacific Islands?


Anything less suggests public relations, not new That was the stance taken earlier this year by online news agency Matangi Tonga.

They rejected a story about Fusimalohi supposedly gaining a regional media award, the Pacific Islands News Association's Freedom of Information Award. Not news they said. And it wasn't - not accurate news anyway.

PINA flip-flopped a couple of times, finally settling on the explanation that the award given to Fusimalohi was from the Media Association of Solomon Islands. Not the PINA award.


All this might be less newsworthy if it were not for PINA now marking Fusimalohi's death by renaming the award. Showing even less concern for due process, PINA executives have allegedly renamed the FOI award as the Tavakae Fusimalohi Award.

Forever. Apparently.

With no future reference to either freedom or information.


Head-slapping silliness. Yes, Fusimalohi was arrested by Tongan authorities for sedition and criminal defamation. Yes, Fusimalohi has been lauded by much bigger news sources than this agency, witness a glowing tribute from the Fiji Times with quotes about a "fearless crusading journalist."

But bigness is no guarantee of success - witness the sorry state of PINA itself.

Also far from clear is whether Fusimalohi really was challenging the status quo, or trying a variation of long-standing attempts to drag independent news media into controversy and disrepute.


Interesting to note, then, that in Fusimalohi's homeland, Matangi Tonga appears to stand by its earlier stance, reporting the death of Fusimalohi in four, short sentences. Not the complete picture, either, but at least it's not a falsely positive picture.

Let us spell this out: PINA is ignoring existing controversy over lack of proper due process in seeking nominations and selecting a Freedom of Information award winner.

Changing the name only adds insult to injury.


None of this celebrates Fusimalohi or leaves much room for discussion about any good parts of his legacy. If anything, it merely adds to the "embarrassment" already alluded to by Matangi Tonga.

More importantly, statements by the new PINA executive assume a mandate they do not have. The FOI is part of a proud tradition stretching back three decades to recognise media who sacrificed plenty in their outspoken support of freedoms of information.

By contrast, Fusimalohi sacrificed little and gained much from his time in the media world. PINA disrespects earlier award winners by lavishing him with this incredible honour.


This agency will forward this editorial for comment from PINA. Earlier emails have been ignored so far. We have established a month-long poll to see whether regional media agree with the new name for the PINA award.

Finally, the agency will suggest ways for PINA to be more transparent, accountable and consultative with the industry.

Also news this week: PINA partnering with the Forum Secretariat. Hopefully, a sign that good governance is as important in the media as anywhere else.

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