Barbara Dreaver: Time for Fiji's PM to end ridiculous claims

As TVNZ's news boss calls for the ban on Barabara Dreaver entering Fiji to be lifted, our Pacific Correspondent responds to claims from the Fiji PM last night.

The ONE News Pacific correspondent was banned for a 2008 story on a struggling community that Frank Bainimarama says claims kids were eating grass. Source: 1 NEWS

It’s ironic that Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama does the same thing he accuses the New Zealand and Australian media of doing – twisting facts.

Frank Bainimarama accused some journalists of being hostile and unbalanced and will leave bans in place, including on TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver. Source: 1 NEWS

Speaking at a banquet to welcome Prime Minister John Key to Suva last night he launched a scathing attack on the media.

“New Zealand television ran footage of tanks in the streets of Suva when our military does not own any tanks. They had been interposed from other sources. A claim was made that Fijian children were starving and were eating grass. These are egregious examples of willful bias and misreporting,” he said.

His ridiculous statement about grass-eating children originated from one of my stories – a story I was told was the reason why I was blacklisted in 2008.

This 2008 ONE News story highlighted poverty in a Fijian village. Source: 1 NEWS

You can watch it here:

This is an absolute nonsense. We did a story about how times were tough in one of the villages – the children had been told by their teachers to help pull out the grass with their hands as they couldn’t afford fuel for their motor mower. We even showed them putting the grass in the rubbish bin – not their tummies.

This is not the first time I have addressed this mis-information with the Fiji Government. In May 2014 I wrote an email to Fiji Government’s Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns along with a copy of my script and background material.

Yet still this urban myth about grass-eating children continues.

As for the tanks claim…what tanks? I certainly haven’t seen any stories purporting to or showing tanks cruising the streets of Suva.

Fiji’s Prime Minister also said that according to New Zealand media what happened in Fiji somehow lacked legitimacy.

That’s because it did lack legitimacy. The bottom line is it was a military dictatorship which ejected the democratically elected government with weapons, sacked the judges, abolished the constitution, put military personnel in top public service positions, censored the media and introduced laws forbidding groups of people meeting.

The Prime Minister says he wants to speak with Fijian PM Frank Bainimarama about removing the prohibition on Kiwi journalists for 'historic events'. Source: 1 NEWS

However, as Frank Bainimarama points out, things have moved on. He was democratically elected by the people, his Government is now legitimate.

Fiji has a right to ban whoever they want to – but banning the three journalists who were/are Pacific correspondents is no accident and it is an attack on freedom of speech.

You would think that Frank Bainimarama is the only leader who has come under the spotlight – that is simply not true.

I have not been afraid to challenge other Pacific leaders when it was needed. One example was allegations of corruption in former PM Laisena Qarase’s Government.

Being a military dictator you don’t have to deal with pesky journalists asking the hard questions. But I’m sorry, Voreqe – being a democratically elected leader means you do.

Is John Key’s trip to Fiji worthwhile? You bet.

Fiji is a great country with many good people. Building relationships with our Pacific neighbour is important, and in times of crisis such as Cyclone Winston it was great to see New Zealand and Fiji pulling together.

But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to challenge, to question.

Otherwise nothing will change.