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Friday 10 June 2016 | Published in Regional


FIJI – Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama has staunchly defended his blacklisting of some New Zealand journalists.

His comments came in a speech to welcome New Zealand prime minister John Key, who is making a historic trip to the country.

“Certain journalists in New Zealand and Australia and certain journalists in Fiji think nothing of dispensing with the facts if they get in the way of the politically-motivated narrative they want to tell and we are saying to the news organisations that employ them send someone else.”

TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver and long-time Pacific reporter Michael Field are among those blacklisted and Key said he planned to take this up with his Fijian counterpart.

“I think it’s an important step from their point of view to take these journalists off the banned list. I can’t force them to do that but I do think it would be the right thing to do.”

Suva pulled out all stops to welcome Key, who is the first New Zealand prime minister to visit Fiji in a decade.

A 100-strong Guard of Honour, waving schoolchildren and a massive roadside billboard featuring the New Zealand leader marked the end of chilly relations since Mr Bainimarama’s coup of 2006.

Bainimarama’s Fiji First party was elected to power in 2014, leading to the full restoration of diplomatic links between the two countries, but top-level talks have taken longer to ensue.

Key said the main aim of his visit was to reset the relationship.

Friday’s official talks he said would cover a range of issues including trade and investment and recovery after February’s devastating cyclone.

“The personal chemistry seems very strong,” he said “I think they are genuinely very grateful for the work we have been doing for Cyclone Winston. This is a very deep relationship.”

Key also planned to broach another sensitive topic – encouraging Bainimarama to end his boycott of the Pacific Islands Forum.

“It will be great to have the prime minister back at the Forum. I think the Forum prime ministers would like to see that. At every other level now, Fiji’s fully engaged so it’s really the last step that needs to be taken. We can’t force them to do that but we can actively encourage them and we’d support that.”

At a banquet to honour Key on the night of his arrival, Bainimarama said he intended to work with the New Zealand leader to strengthen and redefine the relationship.

Much of his welcome speech was devoted to defending his ousting of the government of Laisenia Qarase in 2006 and his administration’s efforts since to bring equality to all in Fiji and stamp out corruption.

“There appears to be a substantial body of opinion in New Zealand by a generally hostile media that what has happened in Fiji somehow lacks legitimacy, that somehow I lack legitimacy and that my government lacks legitimacy. This is simply not borne out by the facts.”

He said he looked forward to a more collaborative and mutually respectful relationship with New Zealand.

“The strains and irritants that have marked our political relationship in recent years are a textbook lesson on how not to conduct friendly relations between neighbouring countries. They must be replaced by genuine co-operation and understanding.”