Saturday, April 23, 2016

Vinaka Seona for sticking up for Professor Wadan Narsey

from Fiji Times today:

He's usually right

Seona Smiles
Sunday, April 24, 2016
DON'T go, Professor Wadan Narsey.
It was too sad to read his final column (The Fiji Times 16/4) in which he described the distressing apathy and silent censorship in our society that has driven him to leave Fiji.
He's right, of course. He usually is, that's one of the most annoying things about him and why he, specifically, gets so severely unpublished and dis-invited.
It's dreadfully discouraging and even I fall into self censorship in a self-centred desire to be published and read.
Some of the most anguishing days of my life were when soldiers with guns but without any understanding or belief in legitimate rights to information sat at our newsroom and removed any items the regime didn't want you people to read.
When someone yells at me in the street, or speaks to me in a shop or at the park to say they enjoyed something I wrote and I say "thanks so much for telling me", I really mean it. It's great to know people are reading my stuff and I hope it encourages some to stand up for good things, such as saving our public trees and being able to comment freely on the state of the nation.
I know many, many people appreciated Prof Narsey's writing, a lot more than those who got around to telling him.
Also lot of people wanted to punch him on the nose and I dare say there are people who want to yell at me in the street to say "what rubbish you write, can't stand it". But fortunately they don't — either out of apathy or as I like to think, because Fiji people are too nice.
Just recently, a book by Prof Narsey that will confirm his reputation as a stellar scholar was published by Palgrave Macmillan. Titled British Imperialism and the Making of Colonial Currency Systems, it is based on the research and theories developed for his Doctor of Philosophy thesis.
Lots of his mates — and he does have them, some in the most surprising places eg the cop shop and up at the barracks — spent years telling him to get on with the book and stop messing about with "pop" articles for the press and talking on panels to people who neither knew nor cared for the things he was passionate about.
But that's the measure of the man. He really wanted ordinary people to know matters important to our lives, about our national finances, how our money is being spent, how our society is being run, about injustices, evasions and downright fibs by officials.
He is harsh on people whom he sees should be saying and doing something about such things and on organisations that work on such matters; not always seeing that different approaches doesn't always mean apathy or inaction.
I too am appalled at the sad self-censorship of journalists who have spent their careers so far learning to be incredibly careful of punitive legal action or to believe that "development journalism" means saying lovely, supportive things about people in power and writing anything critical is wrong.
The façade of democracy that allows undemocratic decrees and serious injustice needs to gain the confidence and maturity to understand that debate, dissent and comment are signs of a healthy society. Next time around I might even vote for a government that sees that.
Long before the spurious exercise to award the government's exclusive advertising contract to the newspaper that most supported the development of the nation etc, no government-funded organisation was permitted to advertise with The Fiji Times.
No use complaining to the Media Industry Development Authority because such things appear not to have come within the concern of "development".
The top chap there has now been made head of the Human Rights Commission in Fiji, something I would have thought was a conflict of interest, but whatever.
I see also that the Human Rights Commission has given $10,000 to the Attorney-General for the Prime Minister's Natural Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Fund, accepted as a contribution that "is a gesture of solidarity with the Fijian Government as it rebuilds Fiji".
I remember, as I am sure Prof Narsey does, the A-G as a great supporter of democracy, back in the day when he was among our number who opposed coups and ch­a­llenged the seriously bad constitution of the Qarase government.
We now have a new Constitution, but not, alas, the one the people who had earlier stood with the Attorney-General had worked for, nor one that is free of overriding decrees.
So Prof Narsey is leaving "the 'home' that Fiji has been and will always be in my heart".
The home which he knew as a Toorak boy in hard colonial times, when his father worked a laundry and young Wadan did the deliveries after school — being told at the door of our then editor and publisher, Sir Len Usher, to use the tradesmen's entrance.
The home of guitar strumming and long nights of song from the 1960s; of being stranded overnight on Sandbank with the non-swimming love of his life, watching the tide rise; ofbarbecues on the beach with his boys and the time he stood on the buried lovo and squashed the yam; of being almost arrested for lurking on Suva sea wall with a pair of binoculars when only trying to spot Halley's comet; of running arguments about the perfect design of a barbecue and how to cook Chinese food; of much beer and more debate.
And he must remember the night the party drifted down to the sea wall, when the police came along to try and stop the dancing and listened patiently to denials of drinking and finally, in exasperation, said to him and even older mates: "Professor, look at your grey hairs, aren't you ashamed of yourselves — go home."
He is going to miss this home and if he really won't write any more critical, complaining, controversial columns, even from abroad, who then is going to inform and encourage us and publicly prod us out of apathy.

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