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Pasifik Nius - USP Journalism Programme
-------------------
A BAPTISM OF FIRE
By Tamani Nair, a final year student journalist who scored a scoop on the coup story
© USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: Fiji's third coup could not have come at a better time for student
journalists - especially those on attachment. It was a baptism by fire
for us.

May 19 was the day it all started. I was fortunate enough to be part of
the team that broke the news of the coup.

Radio Fiji records every parliamentary session in the newsroom itself
and this saves reporters the torture of going to Parliament and sitting
there all day.

We were having our morning tea and joking about parliamentarians -
especially the Opposition with their funny comments they made while
interjecting.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tupeni Baba was speaking at the time. Then we
heard somebody yelling and telling the people to remain seated in
parliament and gunshots were fired.

Everybody was shocked in the newsroom. We just left everything and moved
closer to the radio and then the lines were cut off.

Samisoni Pareti and Sandhya Narayan instantly volunteered to go down to
Parliament. I begged the editor, Vasiti Waqa, to accompany the team to
Parliament.

She said "yes" immediately and told me of the danger which at that
moment was the least of my concerns.

On the way to Parliament, Pareti kept saying: "Oh, not a coup, not
again!" And that got me frightened and excited at the same time.

The speed that we were travelling to Parliament was not funny at all.
Samisoni reported on the coup when it last happened in 1987 and it was
deja vu for him.

The coup took place at 10.35 am and we were outside Parliament by
10.45am. We were greeted by a gunman at the entrance who told us to
"piss off".

So Pareti reversed the car into a road leading into the cassava patch
and we filed our stories for the 11 am news. The timing was perfect.
I believe that we had the upper hand since we recorded parliamentary
proceedings. The other journalists were too busy covering the protest
march that day and it would have been a shame if we had not broken the
news.

When the police arrived at the scene a little after 11am - together with
the other media organisations - we were stuck in the middle of Battery
Road. This was between the gates and the road block erected by the
police.

This got the other journalists irritated since they wanted to be in the
"exclusive spot" also.

I look like an Indian and this worked against me whenever I tried to get
into Parliament. My name Tamani, which is Fijian always managed to save
the day.

Even rebel leader George Speight who was in the middle of one of his
anti-Indian speeches looked at me and said,"I hope you don't mind."
And when he was told I was a "half-caste" like him he quickly said," You
know how I feel and what I mean?."

I wanted to say "No! You bald headed freak" but had to keep quiet.
I couldn't jeopardise my chances of getting into Parliament again. Also
I could have been shot at and as a journalist I needed to be impartial.

I was asked to leave several times by the armed guards inside while they
would let Fijian-looking journalists in. I got stared at by the group of
Speight supporters gathered at Parliament and this always made me feel
very uneasy and frightened.

I was always encouraged to speak Fijian whenever I was in Parliament. To
make matters worse, my editor expected me to file my reports in Hindustani.

There was no Hindi-speaking reporters in Parliament and my Hindi was so
rusty. Fiji Hindi which I am familiar with is not used on radio and this
put me in a difficult situation but I tried my best.

I was certain that by the time I would get out of Parliament I would be
disowned by my father and the rest of the Indo-Fijian community because
half way through my reports I would start speaking in English and
apologising at the end to the Hindi radio listeners for tantalizing
their ears with my broken and pathetic Hindi.

Also the fact that I had to be careful not be caught giving my Hindi
reports in front of one of the "stoned" guards. So one would find me
behind bushes or behind a building struggling with my Hindi report.

We were told to keep away from the guards since they seemed to be edgy
due to lack of sleep. One of them was abit too edgy, firing shots at the
front gate for no apparent reason.

Our editor always reminded me of the dangers of going to Parliament. I
felt that she was being responsible but the excitement of being there,
seeing things unfold before you is just something else.

I guess I was bitten by the journalism bug.

Having contacts of people in high places is important and I had almost
none but Pareti did and he kept giving me tips of people who were
approachable and those unapproachable ones and times that the
unapproachable ones could be approached.

Remembering journalism ethics was very important when we were inside
Parliament. Things like accepting food being provided by Speight at the
cafeteria.

One popular radio personality was acting as a media liason officer
though he denied this but his actions told us otherwise.

Speight also asked the person to answer questions for him during a press
conference which the person did.

The journalists used to talk about this among themselves. But they
decided to make it known to the public when he told a Fiji Times
reporter not to ask George's brother, Jim Speight - the one who has been
widely pictured internationally with the balaclava - a particular
question because it was "not the time for looking for stories."

We later heard the same story in the news of the radio station the
person works for and this really ticked the other journalist off. Talk
about dog eat dog.

+++niuswire

This document is for educational and research use only. Recipients
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PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism
Program, University of the South Pacific.
Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius:
niusedita@pactok.net.au
http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/index.html

Title -- 2799 FIJI: A baptism of fire
Date -- 16 June 2000
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pasifik Nius
Source -- USP Journalism Programme, 16/6/00
Copyright -- USP Journalism
Status -- Unabridged

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