The Fiji National Federation Party leader and former University of the South Pacific academic, Biman Prasad, says he is appalled by how the university dealt with comments made by two of its journalism academics.Pat Craddock and Matthew Thompson were admonished by the USP after speaking out about alleged government harassment of the media and justification of torture by the military. Dr Prasad says the university should be promoting academic freedom and healthy debate on democracy, human rights and media freedom. He told Mary Baines the USP is not a Fiji government institution, as claimed by the university, but is funded by 12 governments in the Pacific and a number of international donors.
BIMAN PRASAD: The USP is a regional organisation. The academic freedom is fundamental to the work of academics, and I think these two academics in the journalism program at the University of the South Pacific were merely exercising their role as academics and commenting on a very, very important issue. I am appalled at the way in which the government has reacted through MIDA and indeed how the University of the South Pacific has reacted to the work and the comment of these two academics.
MARY BAINES: During a meeting between Mr Craddock and the acting vice chancellor Esther Williams, Dr Williams said Fiji is not under a democratic government and the USP has to be very careful about what is put in the news media. What do you think about the USP administration kowtowing to the regime?
BP: For the university to take a position which puts these two academics into a difficult position in my view is uncalled for. I think the university should be a place to promote academic freedom, the ideals of democracy, human rights and freedom for our people. And it is unfortunate that Dr Esther Williams has equated the University of the South Pacific as a government institution. I think that is totally irresponsible for her to do that. It is not a government institution, it is a regional institution funded by 12 governments in the Pacific, including Fiji government which gives more but it is also funded by Australia and New Zealand and USP also gets funding from many other organisations. I am appalled at the comments by Dr Esther Williams. She should clarify that and retract her statement that the USP is a government institution. It is not a government institution.
MB: Australia donates about 28 million, New Zealand 7 million, Japan 5 million. Do you know how much funding is received from the Fiji government, because it seems as though a big whack of it is actually received from overseas?
BP: The Fiji government is the largest contributor when you look at all the governments that own the university. But the spirit of the organisation is that you know it's a regional organisation, every member country has the same right to contribute and be concerned about the role of the university. And academic freedom is fundamental to the work of academics and it's fundamental to the operation of an academic institution like the University of the South Pacific. University is a place where we should promote dissent, disagreement, debate. And of course academic freedom comes with a certain amount of responsibility, and in this case the two academics, I don't think they were irresponsible, they were very responsible, they were merely talking about an important issue of media freedom and allowing media personnel to engage in that kind of environment without fear and favour.