Australian coverage of the Fiji coups of 1987 and 2000 : sources, practice and representation

  • Anthony Mason

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


For many Australians, Fiji is a place of holidays, coups and rugby. The extent to which we think about this near-neighbour of ours is governed, for most, by what we learn about Fiji through the media. In normal circumstances, there is not a lot to learn as Fiji rarely appears in our media. At times of crisis, such as during the 1987 and 2000 coups in Fiji, there is saturation coverage. At these times, the potential for generating understanding is great. The reporting of a crisis can encapsulate all the social, political and economic issues which are a cause or outcome of an event like a coup, elucidating for media consumers the culture, the history and the social forces involved. In particular, the kinds of sources used and the kinds of organisations these sources represent, the kinds of themes presented in the reporting, and the way the journalists go about their work, can have a significant bearing on how an event like a coup is represented. The reporting of the Fiji coups presented the opportunity to examine these factors. As such, the aim of this thesis is to understand the role of the media in building relationships between developed and developing post-colonial nations like Australia and Fiji. A content analysis of 419 articles published in three leading broadsheet newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Canberra Times, examined the basic characteristics of the articles, with a particular focus on the sources used in these articles. This analysis revealed that the reports were dominated by elite sources, particularly representatives of governments, with a high proportion of Australian sources who provided information from Australia. While alternative sources did appear, they were limited in number. Women, Indian Fijians and representatives of non-government organisations were rarely used as sources. There were some variations between the articles from 1987 and those from 2000,primarily an increase in Indian Fijian sources, but overall the profile of the sources were similar. A thematic analysis of the same articles identified and examined the three most prevalent themes in the coverage. These indicated important aspects of the way the coups were represented: the way Fiji was represented, the way Australia's responses were represented, and the way the coup leaders were represented. This analysis found that the way in which the coups were represented reflected the nature of the relationship between Australia and Fiji. In 1987,the unexpected nature of the coup meant there was a struggle to re-define how Fiji should be understood. In 2000, Australia's increased focus on Fiji and the Pacific region was demonstrated by reports which represented the situation as more complex and uncertain, demanding more varied responses. A series of interviews with journalists who travelled to Fiji to cover the coups revealed that the working conditions for Australian media varied greatly between 1987 and 2000. The situational factors, particularly those which limited their work, had an impact on the journalists' ability to access specific kinds of sources and, ultimately, the kinds of themes which appeared in the stories. The variation between 1987 and 2000 demonstrated that under different conditions, journalists were able to access a more diverse range of sources and present more sophisticated perspectives of the coup. In a cross-cultural situation such as this, the impact of reporting dominated by elite sources is felt not just in the country being covered, but also in the country where the reporting appears. It presents a limited representation, which marginalises and downplays the often complex social, cultural and historical factors which contribute to an event like a coup. Debate and alternative ways of understanding are limited and the chance to engage more deeply with a place like Fiji is, by and large, lost.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorPeter Putnis (Supervisor) & Alaine CHANTER (Supervisor)

Cite this