Pacific News Spot: Do not Disrespect the New Fijian Flag… Or Else?

fiji-662109_640[1] - Copy

In the unfolding process of designing and implementing the new Fijian flag, there are new laws which Fijians must abide by with reference to displaying and having opinions about the past and future flag. These laws are stated in the new National Flag Protection Bill 2015 found here. There has however been much confusion in the media about the bill. The primary confusion is in section 5 where it states that the “flag shall be respected by every citizen in Fiji”. In the debate surrounding the bill (such as on Pacific Beat or The Fiji Times) it is argued that the word of “respect” is hard to define with regards to what it allows and doesn’t allow when displaying and discussing the flag and the government it represents. The bill indicates a few examples of appropriate displays of the Fijian flag such as at a school or home. However, in such instances, it must also be displayed in a position of “prominence” which has also caused confusion due to its subjectivity. There are also concerns for displaying either flag on social media. The use of the old flag instead of the new flag may be interpreted as “disrespecting” the new flag. Furthermore displaying either flag on social media, with posts that may be critical of the Fijian government may also be tantamount to “disrespect”. The National Flag Protection Bill 2015 also stipulates the government can deem whether an individual has disrespected the flag and can be fined or imprisoned accordingly. This shifts the onus on the individual to prove their innocence. This reverses the commonly held “rule of law” whereby an individual is innocent until proven guilty by the judicial system.

While the National Flag Protection Bill 2015 has caused much debate in the media in its own right, it is heightened by the fact that there does not seem to be any general public support for any of the proposed final 23 flag designs. Firstly, this lack of support can be attributed to the fact that none of the designs are fully accurate of what candidates put forth in a nationally held flag design contest. The government simply appropriated aspects of the designs that it deemed suitable or desirable. The Sodelpa Youth Council member, Peter Waqavonono, says the design process has been undemocratic in nature, thereby calling the new flag “Bainimarama’s flag” not Fiji’s flag. Furthermore the designs that have been adapted by the government are said to resemble “clip-art” pictures by the Fiji Times. I am not here to make my own judgement on the flag designs, however you are welcome to judge some of the proposed designs below.

Secondly, on various blogs where Fijian political activism and engagement is vibrant (sorry I will not reveal these sources but they are easily findable), there is a great reverence for the old flag. In many comments threads, Fijians dominantly believe that the old flag fully represents their identity. This is despite the fact that the Fijian’s government’s entire motive for replacing the old flag was to remove certain colonial symbolism that was not representative of a modern Fijian identity. I discussed the issues and challenges of designing a flag that fully represents Fijian Identity in a previous article that can be found here. In this article I highlighted some political pundit’s opinions of including Fijian-Indian identity into the flag design.

I will leave my own personal analysis short… however it is fair to say that the result of the National Flag Protection Bill 2015 and the general dissatisfaction of the new flag designs, has been a certain disconnect between the newly democratically elected government and the Fijian people with regards to this issue.

New Fijian Flag

Some of the proposed designs of the new Fijian flag

lucaswatt

lucaswatt

Lucas Watt is a PhD candidate with the school of Media and Communications at RMIT University. His project title is “The Domestication of Mobile Money in Fiji: An Ethnographic Study”.