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Blog wars in Fiji: Soft power in a South Pacific dictatorship

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Authoritarian governments have increasingly hired US-based public relations companies to improve their image in the twenty-first century. These services were pioneered by Hill+Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller in the 1950s and the 1960s, but recently Washington-based Qorvis Communications has emerged as a popular choice. From its initial client base at the millennium of mostly oil-rich Middle Eastern dictatorships, Qorvis has branched out, including to the South Pacific. It was hired in 2011 by the military dictatorship in Fiji in advance of a constitutional review and elections there in 2014. Following a 2006 coup by military commander Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bainimarama, the regime suppressed domestic media with the threat of fines and prison terms contained in a repressive 2010 Media Decree. Blogs thus emerged as an underground press, and under Qorvis a pair of pro-regime blogs began to attack regime critics in an attempt to silence them. This case study examines their discourse involving three parties. Bruce Hill of the Radio Australia programme Pacific Beat came under regular criticism for his reporting on the regime by Fijiborn Australian blogger Graham Davis and retired New Zealand professor Crosbie Walsh. Constitutional Commission chair Yash Ghai was discredited in a smear campaign on these blogs and in the pro-regime Fiji Sun newspaper after delivering a draft constitution that would have restored human rights and reduced the role of the military. The author, who was then head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific, was forced to resign at the end of 2012 following similar attacks after he criticized the regime.
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Keywords: Fiji media; Internet propaganda; Qorvis Communications; blogs; military dictatorship; public relations

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Malta

Publication date: 01 May 2018

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