The 2000 Speight coup in Fiji: an analysis of the role of The Fiji Times and the impact of partisan media
Singh, Thakur Ranjit
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In May 1999, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry was sworn in as the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister of Fiji. A year later, an unruly protest march opposing his leadership climaxed in a renegade soldier-led attempted coup. The rebel Counter-Revolutionary Warfare soldiers led by a failed businessman, George Speight, took the elected Fiji government hostage. As was the case with the original coup d’état in May 1987, the Labour-led Indo–Fijian dominated coalition government’s term in office was cut short by Speight and his ethno-nationalist forces. The May 2000 attempted coup, the dissolution of Chaudhry government and the lack of popular uprising to support democracy have been partially attributed to an alleged irresponsible journalism which put considerable pressure on the fledgling first Indo-Fijian-led government. Claims have been made that the media, particularly The Fiji Times, played a critical role in this event through the way it portrayed Chaudhry and his government. Such reporting has been challenged as having contributed to racial animosity, leading to political disorder. This research, conducted through content analysis between May 1999 and May 2000 along with an examination of documents and the coup literature, seeks to explore any role The Fiji Times may have played leading to political instability, culminating in the putsch, seizure of the Parliament and eventual imprisonment of George Speight after his death sentence for treason was commuted to life in jail. The thesis discusses the performance of The Fiji Times in the context of a range of media theories and models in a developing nation and examines possible contributory factors in the fall of democracy and the one-year rule of the Chaudhry government. The author of this thesis also draws on his own personal experience in the Fiji news media as the publisher of one of Fiji’s three daily newspapers, Fiji’s Daily Post; as a columnist; as a political commentator and as an independent Hindi programme presenter for the public broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, during this turbulent period.