RSF condemns Chinese exclusion of journalists at APEC side events

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby … accused over “new media control strategy” in South Pacific. Image: SCMP

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the discrimination practised by the Chinese delegation against local and international media at the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held last weekend in Papua New Guinea and attended by President Xi Jinping.

During the APEC leaders summit, held from November 17-18 in Port Moresby, several accredited media – including the Australian public broadcasting TV channel ABC and the local EMTV News channel and National daily newspaper – were prevented from covering three events organised by the Chinese delegation and involving Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The events included a dinner with President Xi’s counterparts from eight Pacific Island States, reports RSF.

READ MORE: Nothing to see here … Chinese state media has little to say over APEC summit drama

Chinese journalists were apparently the only ones allowed to cover these events.

“The delegation, which did not see fit to explain the reasons for this discrimination, cynically invited excluded journalists to use the recordings broadcast by the Chinese media as the source of information for their articles,” RSF said.

-Partners-

Cédric Alviani, director of RSF’s East Asia office, said: “It is intolerable that a foreign delegation in an international event would claim the right to choose which journalists can be admitted or not to cover the proceedings.”

He added that this incident was “a new example of the media control strategy established by Beijing, which is no longer limited to the Chinese territory and tends to spread internationally”.

China is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, holding more than 60 professional and non-professional journalists behind bars.

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF, the country stagnates at 176 out of 180. In the RSF Index, President Xi is described as a “predator” against press freedom.

In Auckland, the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project also condemned the “assault on Papua New Guinea’s freedoms of speech, expression and access to information” in a country that has a constitutionally guaranteed free media.

President Xi Jinping’s “predator” against media freedom file with RSF. Source: RSF

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PNG governor may block Australian naval base bid on Manus

Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin … critical of Port Moresby government’s lack of consultation. Image: RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

The governor of Papua New Guinea’s Manus Province has hinted that he could obstruct Australia’s bid to build a naval port on Manus Island.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on November 1 that his country would fund the development of a deepwater base at the old Lombrum Naval Base used during the Second World War.

The move is seen as a counter to China’s aspirations to develop the site.

READ MORE: Scott Waide: How China is several moves ahead in Port Moresby

Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin told Reuters news agency that he had not been consulted on the development and that it would have to benefit the local residents.

“I have my people living on the island and we are the ones affected,” Benjamin said.

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“The government might have the right but if we decide to put our foot down, there will be problems.”

The Manus governor has previously been critical of central government’s lack of consultation over the Australian-run refugee detention centres based on the island.

Military outpost
Manus is PNG’s northernmost and smallest province with 50,000 people and an Australian-funded navy base there could provide a military outpost for Canberra in the Pacific.

Prime Minister Morrison has said Australian vessels would be regular visitors.

RNZ Pacific’s Johnny Blades reports from APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) that the United States will join Australia in expanding the Lombrum Naval Base on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

US vice-president Mike Pence made the announcement at the APEC leader’s summit in Port Moresby yesterday.

Pence, who is representing his country at APEC in the absence of President Donald Trump, used his speech to assert US partnership with Pacific Islands and other allies in the wider region.

Without elaborating on details, he confirmed the US would partner with PNG and Australia on a joint naval base on Manus, reported Blades.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

The newly built APEC Haus in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby which is hosting the 2018 APEC leaders summit this weekend. Image: Johnny Blades/RNZ Pacific

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Chinese officials kick out EMTV, foreign media from APEC events – allow Beijing state media

Some critics say that China’s latest behaviour toward foreign journalists casts doubt over its vow to treat neighbours with “respect”. Image: Natalie Whiting/ABC News/My Land, My Country

By Scott Waide

Papua New Guinea’s freedoms of speech, expression and access to information were challenged yesterday when Chinese officials barred both local and non-Chinese media from attending meetings at three Asia-Pacific Economy Cooperation (APEC) venues.

It began in Parliament when Chinese President Xi Jinping was giving an address after a guard of honour. 

EMTV journalist Theckla Gunga, who was assigned to cover the Chinese President’s visit, reported that just after 11am, Chinese officials accompanying their president ordered the microphones to be removed from the speaker where they had been placed to record the speeches.

READ MORE Chinese President Xi’s early PNG arrival upstages APEC rivals

“Chinese officials who are organising the official opening of the Chinese-funded six lane road have refused to give audio feeds to media personnel,” she said in a WhatsApp message.

“Microphones belonging to both local and international media have been removed,” said Gunga.

-Partners-

The officials, however, allowed Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV to record President’s Xi speech.

Gunga and other journalists spent about 10 minutes arguing with the Chinese officials but were still refused.

‘No media, no media’
One hour later, EMTV Online reporter Merylyn Diau-Katam faced another group of Chinese officials at the gate of a Chinese government-funded school.

“Before the President arrived a bus full of Chinese media personnel were driven into the gate on a bus,” she said.

“And when we wanted to go in, we were told our names were not on the list even though we had APEC accreditation passes,” Diau-Katam.

“No media. No media, a Chinese official said,” she said.

Diau-Katam was not the only one refused entry. In the group was a photographer from Japanese public broadcaster, NHK and other media. A PNG government official also spent several minutes arguing with the Chinese security to let him in.

At 5pm yesterday, Chinese officials again booted out local and international media from a meeting between the Chinese President and Pacific Island country leaders.

EMTV anchor and senior journalist, Meriba Tulo, was among others told to “get out” of the meeting while Chinese media were allowed into the room.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was also told to leave. They spoke to Post-Courier’s senior journalist, Gorethy Kenneth. She said Chinese officials from Beijing were initially angry with the presence of international media.

“I said: ‘We are here to cover the meeting, our names have been submitted.’ And they said: ‘No, all of you get out,’” Kenneth said.

Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Scott Waide: How China is several moves ahead in Port Moresby

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Prime Minister of PNG Peter O’Neill shaking hands. Image: Solomon Kantha/My Land My Country

COMMENTARY: By Scott Waide

In November every year, the Papua New Guinean National budget usually takes centre stage. But not this year.

This week, the 2019 budget came two days before the start of the biggest meetings of APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation).  People were interested in it for a day, then it faded into the background.

Then BOOM… Enter China-US geopolitics…

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the most influential world leader in the Asia-Pacific arrived in Port Moresby with the largest delegation of officials.

They came on two large planes and the festivities for his delegation demonstrated just how important China’s money is to the Papua New Guinea ( government.

World politics is being played out on PNG soil. It already is, by the way.

-Partners-

From the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore, US Vice President, Mike Pence indicated he would be revealing how “dangerous” the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative is to the rest of the world including the Pacific.

Infrastructure projects
This announcement comes on the back of US$60 billion funding (about NZ$87 billion) aimed at the Asia-Pacific region. Also note that China has allocated the same amount to African countries for various projects including infrastructure.

Australia has announced its own funding initiatives for the Pacific of 7 billion Kina (NZ$3 billion).

In the foreign ministers’ meeting, the US-China tension is already being felt as the US and China tussle over free trade and other issues.

On the ground in Port Moresby, there is a strong US and Australian military presence.

From China, a strong trade presence and message about building relationships. From the outset, China appears to have all its moves planned out and is ticking off each item on its list of things to do.

At least for the government, the attention from world leaders is important. Maybe APEC is an opportunity.  Maybe it is a double edged sword – with opportunity on the one side and debt on the other as has been the case in other countries like Sri Lanka.

What stands out is China’s willingness to engage. President Xi is here for four days. America’s Trump and Russia’s Putin both sent their number twos.

As US Vice-President Pence, tweeted and jetted into Cairns, President Jinping met with Pacific Island Forum leaders and representatives in Port Moresby in the afternoon.

Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae.

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Tongasat’s appeal aimed at hindering suing former PMs, says Pōhiva

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva … plan to lodge additional legal action to force pay back of the Tomgasat money. Image: Kalino Lātū/Kaniva News

By Kalino Lātū, editor of Kaniva News  

Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva says he believes an appeal by Tongasat against a Supreme Court ruling over the illegal payment of millions of dollars is an attempt to hinder attempts to sue those involved and to force Princess Pilolevu to pay back the money.

Parliament tabled a submission by the government early this month to sue ex Prime Ministers Lord Sevele and Lord Tu’ivakanō for their involvement in the illegal payment of TP$90 million (NZ$60 million).

Pōhiva has revealed there was also a plan to lodge additional legal action to force Princess Pilolevu and Tongasat to pay back the money.

READ MORE: Petition to sue ex-PMs over US$50m Tongasat payment

However, he said he had discussed this with his counsel, Dr Rodney Harrison, and there was concern that the money could not be recovered and it would be very hard to investigate it.

Pōhiva told Kaniva News in an exclusive interview this week in Auckland that Tongasat’s appeal would not change Lord Chief Justice Paulsen’s decision.

-Partners-

“They are free to appeal and that was part of the judicial process, but I don’t think it would affect the Supreme Court’s decision,” the Prime Minister said.

Pohiva said he had read the decision repeatedly and marvelled at how Judge Paulsen looked at all evidence and arguments before he declared that the payments of the money made by the government of Tonga to Tongasat was unlawful within the meaning of the Public Finance Management Act.

Appeal filed
Tongasat, which is also known as The Friendly Islands Satellite Communications Ltd. (Tongasat), filed a notice of appeal against the Supreme Court decision in August.

Its counsel, W.C. Edwards, then filed the appeal in the Court of Appeal of Tonga on October 16.

The appellants said they had fresh evidence from witnesses, including former Ministers of Finance Lord Matoto, Dr ‘Aisake Eke, Sunia Fili and former Chief Secretary to Cabinet ‘Aholotu Palu.

Lord Chief Justice Paulsen issued a declaration on the legal status of the main points of the claims made in the court case in September.

He said the first tranche payment of US$24.45 million in aid grant funds received by the kingdom from the People’s Republic of China on September 4, 2008, was a grant and therefore public money within the meaning of the Public Finance Management Act.

“Following its receipt by the Kingdom, US$20,985,667 of the first payment was paid to or for the benefit of Tongasat pursuant to a purported agreement between the then Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti Sevele and Tongasat,” the judge said.

“The payment of US$20,985,667 of the first payment to or for the benefit of Tongasat was expended in breach of section 9 of the PFMA and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

Finance act breach
“To the extent that the first payment was expended to satisfy pre-existing liabilities of Tongasat that expenditure was in breach of section 30 of the PFMA and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

“The purported agreement between the then Prime Minister and Tongasat was in breach of the PFMA and in excess of Dr Sevele’s lawful powers and authority as Prime Minister and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

“Tongasat was not entitled to payment of the first payment or any part thereof under either the Agency Agreement or the Agency Termination Agreement.

“The second payment of US$25.450 million in aid grant funds received by the kingdom from the People’s Republic of China on June 9, 2011 was a ‘grant’ and accordingly public money within the meaning of the PFMA.

“Following its receipt by the Kingdom, the second payment was paid in its entirety to or for the benefit of Tongasat pursuant to a purported agreement between the then Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti Sevele and Tongasat.

“The payment of the second payment in its entirety to or for the benefit of Tongasat was expended in breach of section 9 of the PFMA and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

“To the extent that the first payment was expended to satisfy pre-existing liabilities of Tongasat that expenditure was in breach of section 30 of the PFMA and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

“The purported agreement between the then Prime Minister and Tongasat was both in breach of the PFMA and in excess of Dr Sevele’ s lawful powers and authority as Prime Minister and accordingly unlawful and invalid.

“Tongasat was not entitled to payment of the second tranche payment or any part thereof under either the Agency Agreement or the Agency Termination Agreement.”

The Pacific Media Centre has a content sharing arrangement with Kaniva News.

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China isn’t the real threat to liberal democracy – ‘we are’, say academics

Analysing China … Dr Stephen Noakes (from left), Dr David Williams (host), Professor David Matas and Barry Wilson talking to the audience at the University of Auckland last week. Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

The Chinese government is accused of illegally harvesting the organs of Falun Gong members. However, a leading academic says that China isn’t the real threat – Western countries are themselves, reports Rahul Bhattarai of Asia Pacific Journalism.

Leading academics warn that the “problem” with China is not the Chinese Communist Party but that Western self-censorship is “killing” its liberal democracy.

“China is not the real threat there, we are, we are the biggest threat to liberal democracy in New Zealand,” says Dr Stephen Noakes, senior lecturer in politics and international relations and Asian studies at the University of Auckland.

“Every time we self-censor, when we choose not to speak out, when we chose to keep quiet for fear of not getting a visa, or not getting a trade deal … But since we, through our obsequiousness towards China are a potential threat, we can also be the cure,” he told a  public seminar last week.

READ MORE: Why China fears the Falun Gong

ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNALISM STUDIES NEWSFILE

Lawyers and political scientists gathered at University of Auckland (UOA) last week to discuss the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policies about fundamental human rights and freedoms, civil liberties and the rule of law.

Organ harvesting
China has been under fire globally for its alleged unauthorised organ transplants from members of the Falun Gong community.

-Partners-

Though the initial position of the Chinese government was that all the organs were donated, “this was at a time when they [China] didn’t even have donation systems… and they did not have an organs distribution system,” said Professor David Matas, lawyer, author and professor of immigration and refugee law at the University of Manitoba.

While all organs were being found locally and the transplant volume was small, after the prosecution of Falun Gong began, the transplant volume “shot way up,” he said.

China became the leading producer of transplantation in the world, second only to the United States.

Research conducted in 2006 by Professor Matas and his colleagues concluded that “the organs were coming from the practitioners of Falun Gong”, he said.

As a result of his report, the Chinese government quickly shifted its stance and said that “everything that was coming from prisoners sentenced to death and then executed, before their execution they decided to donate their organ as an atonement for their crimes,” said Professor Matas.

Foreign lobbying
In New Zealand strong lobbying from the Chinese Embassy prevented an exhibition of the Chinese spiritual organisation  Falun Gong to be set up in Auckland City.

Lawyer Barry Wilson, president of Auckland Council for Civil Liberties, said he had spent an enormous amount of time at the Auckland City Council trying to persuade them to allow the Falun Gong stand and the demonstrations for the protection of Falun Gong to remain.

“We were up against very strong lobbying from a Chinese Consulate and the Chinese Embassy which did not want that exhibition there,” he said.

The Chinese constitution of 1982 contained the civil liberties that are observed in democratic countries – “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom from arbitrary arrest,” he said.

When Xi Jinping became president, he also brought his “clearly expressed opposition for liberal values”.

“In his speeches he has spoken of the dangers of the liberal ideas like civil liberties, constitution rights, the dangers they pose for Communist Party rule,” he said.

In China, there is no separation of powers between the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature – “courts and judges are subject to political direction,” he said.

Ruling by law
“What China needs is lawyers as cogs in its economic development machine, but it needs lawyers to rule by law, not keep the rulers in check through the rule of law,” he said.

Wilson said: “They [Falun Gong] are always interesting… its organisation and its events well deserve support.”

China has also been using various means to infiltrate foreign countries to exercise its soft power on them – the Confucius Institute (CI) is one such organisation, says director Doris Lui in her documentary movie, In The Name of Confucius. 

The documentary claimed CI was an “infiltration organisation”.

The Chinese government founded the institute in 2004 to teach foreigners the language and culture of China.

The documentary has been a strong critic of the CCP over its alleged violations of human rights, particularly against the Falun Gong community.

In August, the free screening of the movie was set to air in University of Auckland, but the airing was withdrawn at the last minute.

The University of Auckland, University of Canterbury and University of Wellington in New Zealand have ties with CI.

The CI, which is controlled by the Office of Chinese Language Council Internationl (Hanban) prevents its teachers from teaching Cantonese or Hokkien.

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Scott Waide: Amid the PNG silence on military aid, calls go out for wide national consultation

Lombrum naval base on Manus Island … a Google’s-eye view.

COMMENT: By Scott Waide

The global trade war between China and Western powers has reached new heights in the Pacific, and in particular in Papua New Guinea. As the government of Peter O’Neill courts China on the one side of the bargaining table, receiving, aid and other benefits, PNG’s traditional military partner, Australia, is growing anxious.

Australian media has reported that their government is planning to establish a military base on Manus Island to counter the growing Chinese influence in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

The PNG government has been largely silent since Australia’s announcement.

Last night, when I contacted the Defence Minister, Solan Mirisim, he said the Papua New Guinea has been in negotiations with Australia for “a military base and a training facility on Manus”.

The plans by Australian has brought about concerns.

A former PNG Defence Force Commander, Major-General Jerry Singirok, says any decision by the Australians to place troops in Papua New Guinea must have wide consultation as well as debate in Parliament.

-Partners-

So far there has been none.

Retired Major-General Jerry Singirok … “threat of being smothered or over run by a behemoth of an economic and military power are real.” Image: My Land, My Country

Sovereign nation
“Australia must be mindful that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign nation. There has to be wide public consultation as well as debate in parliament because this is a strategic decision.

“Australia has neglected this region for so long. This issue has to be approached with diplomacy.”

Australia’s choice of Manus is of strategic military importance. The maritime corridor between Guam to the north and Manus to the south was used by the Japanese in World War Two to reach the Pacific.

A possible Australian presence in Manus means they get to police the northern region. The move places Papua New Guinea in the centre of a global power struggle between the US and its allies and China.

For Papua New Guinea, things are a bit complicated. How does the government call China a threat and receive aid and development loans? And how does it support Australia’s military ambitions and still view China as a friend.

Another Former PNGDF Commander, feels Australia has to find a middle ground to deal with the trade war instead of placing military personnel in Papua New Guinea.

“China is not a threat,” says retired Commodore Peter Ilau, who also served as ambassador to Indonesia.

“We have to learn to work with China. We cannot respond with a show of military force,” he says.

Both former commanders agree that the threat of being smothered or over run by a behemoth of an economic and military power are real.

China’s economic influence in Papua New Guinea extends to nearly all sectors.

In the 13-year period between 2005 and 2018, China has spent close to 12 billion kina in investments and aid in Papua New Guinea. That is 3 billion kina short of Papua New Guinea’s annual budget of 15 billion.

Chinese money has been spent of monumental projects like buildings, transport infrastructure and energy projects in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

But what concerns many in Papua New Guinea is debt to China driven by loans and obligations and the possible take over of state assets by a foreign power.

Lombrum naval base on Manus Island following World War Two in 1949. Image: Australian War Memorial

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‘Flight of the myna’ – behind the smiles in post-coup Fiji 30 years on

OPINION: By Sri Krishnamurthi in Suva

When I left Fiji 30 years ago, a week after the first coup in 1987, I planned to write a book titled “The flight of the myna” – a pesky, noisy bird, which can talk if trained and was introduced to Fiji by our forefathers from India.

The book wasn’t to be, but that very thought crossed my mind again as the plane taxied down the runaway to a halt at Suva’s Nausori International Airport.

I had been back to Fiji only once before in 30 years – but very briefly to the West, not Suva, the bustling Capital City.

My first impressions in the night arrival were that houses were lit up everywhere, signalling a population growth – Fiji now has a population of 913,537 (according to the World Population Review website, the official census in 2007 had it at 837,200) and is tipped to surpass the 1 million mark by 2020.

Suva and its surrounding towns of Nasinu, Nausori and Lami has an estimated combined population 330,000 – small wonder then of population growth, which can lead to problems akin to New Zealand.

Homelessness, poverty and housing shortages are today’s reality for the government that will take office after this year’s general election, the second since the 2006 coup.

-Partners-

At the same time, there it was — McDonald’s — with its golden arches, seemingly as busy as the restaurant in downtown Auckland, and Damodar City Centre, a mall like any other, owned by the same family that was heavily invested in movies and movie houses from 30 years ago.

A mall and McD’s signified some wealth, and there is little doubt that Fiji has its fair share of the wealthy, combined with the traffic, just as bad as Auckland’s.

Bustling city
In many respects, Suva remains the same bustling city with the same charming smile and a friendly “bula”, regardless of opportunistic crime, with the “street boys” sometimes targeting unwary visitors and inebriated revelers.

As an academic said: “We have car sales as a big business, because people can hop into their cars and drive to malls.”

Three decades ago you drove, walked or caught on open-air rattler of a bus to “town”.

Malls? What were they?

As for cellphones – they have them everywhere and anywhere, creating the same social problems of any major city – killing conversation and dialogue.

However, the question remains – where is the investment and money coming from?

“Fiji now owes over $500 million to China which amounts to be about 40 percent of all our external debt,” suggests economist Professor Biman Prasad of the National Federation Party.

However, Fiji’s Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum wasn’t as concerned and earlier this year said the World Bank had done a thorough analysis of the national debt and was convinced that it was manageable. Loans are used to strengthen infrastructure and stimulate the economy.

China concerns
China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy is cause for concern long term, and its growing influence in Fiji is alarming for some. Not just Fiji, but for the whole Pacific.

Other investments, anecdotally, come from the myriad of people, about 200,000 who left Fiji after the coups – returning, because they can get their citizenship reinstated.

They are coming home as business entrepreneurs and investors and that is very noticeable in the popular drinking holes.

While the smiles are genuine, there is always a feeling of a cloud hovering around, and it’s just not the media decrees that are doing it.

Every person of note and authority seems to be walking around with a well-thumbed copy of the 2013 Constitution in their back pockets.

The dog-eared constitutions. Some with post-it notes, are ready to be pulled out at will, citing chapter and section – much akin to the holy books.

Regardless of the bustling nature of Suva, famous iTaukei smiles and being readily approachable, with their laid-back style of Fiji time, where appointments are seldom kept on the dot – paradise is troubled.

Shoulder looks
You always get the feeling of someone looking over shoulder, muted closed discussions in hushed tones of politics in Fiji – as the Second World War saying goes: “Walls have ears”.

But to get into conversation about politics is a revelation: most people have a view, many of them intelligent, and a surprise to the ears of a supposed-leprechaun who has been away for 30 years.

As a frustrated lawyer at the iconic Holiday Inn said: “Do we want good roads or do we want free speech?” Or the doctor who beamed and said: “There are issues around land.”

However, Fiji is between the devil and the deep blue sea, for a country that is weary and yearns for the stability of the past. It can stay with current FijiFirst government (which gained 60 percent of the vote in 2014) or venture into the unknown. The election, just weeks away, will reveal which direction the voters choose to go.

So, as the old motto from the old Fiji Visitors Bureaus used to say, “Fiji, the way the world should be”.

Exactly, the view of myna bird.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to The University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

First-year journalism and politics student Dhruvkaran Nand (left) talks to Sri Krishnamurthi about the impending 2018 Fiji general election. Image: Wansolwara Staff

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media