(o) Citizen's Constitutional Forum Media Release on Draft Media Decree

Media Laws must protect Freedom of Expression

CCF urges the interim government to urgently reconsider parts of the Media Industry Development Decree in order to protect freedom of opinion and expression in Fiji.
The Draft Media Industry Development Decree effectively replaces the restrictions under the Public Emergency Regulations and allows strict media censorship to continue in Fiji,” says Rev. Akuila Yabaki, ”PER and censorship must be lifted so that the citizens of Fiji can enjoy the right to receive and impart information and diverse opinions.”
After attending the consultation on Wednesday 7 April 2010 and briefly reading the draft decree, CCF makes the following submissions and recommendations:-
  1. Section 4(1) – If there is going to be a Media Authority, there should be guidelines or criteria on who the minister should select for the Authority. It should include the appointment of credible and experienced people from the media industry. 
  2. Sections 6(2) and 9 be struck out to ensure the independence of the role the Media Authority.
  3. Sections 7(c), (d) and (e), s21, and 77(1) be struck out. Terms such as “national interest”, “offends good taste or decency” are vague and subjective and are not clearly defined.

    1. These restrictions violate the principles of the Charter (Recommendation ii at p156 of the SNE Report:- “free speech and free media are basic and inviolable principles… the media must not be subject to censorship”); and
    2. Art 19 UDHR (Freedom of opinion and expression).
  4. The Penalties provided are not reasonable and proportionate to the offence. A journalist should not be liable for imprisonment for up to 5 years for accurate reporting or for exercising freedom of opinion or expression. The media organisation should be solely responsible for the actions of its employees. All penalty provisions should be altered accordingly.
  5. It should be a defence to any offences relating to content regulation to prove that a publication was made honestly and in good faith. Otherwise the media would not be able to accurately report on violent crimes because they might offend ‘good taste or decency’ – surely this is not intended and would be contrary to the public interest.
  6. Sections 16(1), 16(2) and 84 collectively prohibit accountability of the Authority, Tribunal and the Minister making decisions under this Decree. This violates the right to an effective remedy and the right to a fair and public hearing before an independent tribunal. These sections should be removed so that people have a clear right to judicial review.
  7. The broad powers given to the Media Authority under Part 5 are concerning. Section 26 gives powers to officers or agents of the Media Authority to enter, search, seize and use such force as considered necessary. The right to life, liberty and security of person should be clearly protected under this section to prevent officers using excessive or unreasonable force. These powers are unnecessary and the Police should be the relevant authority to carry out these powers.
  8. Section 48(3) allows the Minister to interfere with the functions and powers of the Tribunal. This section should be struck out to ensure the independence of the Media Tribunal.
  9. Section 77 should be removed. This mirrors provisions under PER which allow government censors in newsrooms and duplicates existing powers under the Public Order Act and the Crimes Decree. The power to shut down all activities and operations for breaching of this section is excessive and unreasonable.
  10. State owned media organisations should be required to operate under the same rules and regulations as private media organisations for reporting accurately and responsibly. Applying different standards based on ownership is unjust and undermines equality before the law. The exemption for state owned media organisations should be removed.
In February 2010, the UN Human Rights Council strongly recommended the Fiji Interim Government lift PER and media censorship. The proposed decree does not ease media restrictions.
In order to meet its human rights obligations, the interim government must address the concerns raised by the civil society, the media industry and the international community about the independence of the media industry and protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, says Akuila Yabaki.
CCF would welcome open and inclusive dialogue and discussion on the importance of freedom of expression and opinion before this Decree is passed.
For further information, contact CCF on ph: 3308379 or fax: 3308380.

Rev Akuila Yabaki
Chief Executive Officer
Website: www.ccf.org.fj


Please respond Akuila said…
As usual, Akuila Yabaki makes some important points. No individual journalist should be punished merely for trying to do his or her job and I agree with the CCF that the buck should rest with the proprietor. This would also make media organisations a lot more careful generally about what they report and the need to check and re-check their facts. Not bad thing.

But I'm surprised that the CCF hasn't said anything at all about the foreign ownership provisions of the draft decree, that would see News Limited required to divest itself of the Fiji Times within three months of it being promulgated. Does this mean the CCF agrees with the regime on the need to get Rupert Murdoch out of Fiji? Please, Akuila, could you clarify this?

Tempting as it is to embrace the idea of an all local media, it's only good if those proprietors are editorially and financially strong. This has been the benefit of the Murdoch empire in all the world's major English speaking markets. Indeed, you could say that for all his faults, Murdoch has stuck with high quality journalism through his papers like the Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Australian, at a time when the rest of the industry has been on its knees.

No newspaper can survive without a strong proprietor and this is the risk to journalism in Fiji. I believe the best course of action would be for Murdoch's people to engage with the regime and try and work out their differences. Getting rid of News Limited might seem attractive now but may eventually be seen to have been very short sighted. Perhaps even a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
joe said…
The writing was clearly on the wall for Murdoch & co. for a very long time and they chose to ignore it. This is a no nonsense govt. It is for the people not the elite. All that was asked of them was a fair, unbiased and sensible reporting.
How do you solve a problem like Netani? said…
So what's the answer, Joe? Nationalise the Fiji Times and hand it over to Colonel Leweni at the Information Ministry? Persuade Hari Punja or Kantilal Tappoo to take in over with a fire sale payment to Rupert Murdoch? There needs to be a plan for an outcome that would be better than News Limited's ownership of the FT. And I haven't seen one yet. I'd be interested to hear about alternatives. Does anyone have any ideas?
TheMax said…
That's Strange - fijitoday also listed Babasiga, Globalvoicesonline and the Fiji Labor Party sites, questioning why they should be considered subversive.

Evidently the IG no longer has its eyes just on the original postings, but considers reader responses to those postings to be equally as important.

The thin end of the wedge in all this was the Fiji Times’ publication of a letter last year in which the writer was considered to have been contemptuous of a high court decision. That writer was outside the jurisdiction of the Fiji court therefore the FT, being the letter publisher, was tried and found guilty of contempt of court.

The draft media decree definition of media organisation specifically includes “…a person…that creates an internet website that is capable of being accessed by the public…”

The registration requirements in clause 31 (1) notes that “every media organisation that provides, or intends to provide media services in Fiji must be registered…”
Clause 36 (4) (b) (i) (ii) (iii) requires identity and contact details of the proprietor of the ISP, the office location and any interest held in any media organisation.

So, taking a supposedly ridiculous (but legally plausible) line that Crosbie registers, but forgets to advise that he holds shares in say, The New Zealand Herald, he is ‘theoretically’ in breach of the draft laws and subject to up to 5 years imprisonment. It’s hardly likely to happen to an old guy who comes here on holiday, but the important thing to realise is that the draft law DOES make it possible.

The most important thing to understand is that, based on the High Court decision in the FT case, if a website administrator doesn’t censor the comments arriving on his website by deleting or correcting those which could be considered in contravention of the media code of ethics and practice, they could be found guilty of breaking the law and the punishments for that are draconian.

So, to TheMax and others who feel that this new media decree doesn't curb anybody's freedom of speech, I feel that you’re wrong. It’s the way in which the law could be defined - not by you, me or the webmaster, but by those who will be implementing it, that makes this so potentially dangerous to free speech.

Even the mildly satirical comments posted in the past to give people a laugh could be construed as subversive, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the more nervous webmasters (particularly if they live in Fiji) now choose to delete them, rather than running the risk of falling foul of the law. If that’s not curbing freedom of speech, I don’t know what is.
Apr 8, 2010 10:37:00 AM
TheMax said…
It has been reported that tourist arrivals are up. At the end of the fiscal year can we show an increase in revenue, just to balance the equation? But many tourists come on pre-planned pleasure trips. Most things are paid for on the other side. What they spend in Fiji is just a measly sum on handicraft, necklaces a little food and maybe soft drinks. All the big money is paid and left overseas.

Most tourist ship arrival tours are organized on buses. The tourist goes from boat onto the bus and is whisked straight to an already mega-rich handicraft shop. They see the countryside zooming pass them. The small people are left waving on the roadside with their stalls and handicraft. How about allowing the tourist to roam free and let him decide what he wants to see and buy. I’m sure the tourist wants the natural smile of the Fijian people not the forced smile of salesmen and women who work on commission basis and targets!

How about organizing tours to villages and rural areas, so that the people don’t have to spend money on carriers to motor into town. Hard earned money is spent on taxi and carrier fares. Then after they have sold something they go and have an unhealthy lunch at a fast food restaurant and 50% of the money is gone.

I was in Nadi the other day and made it a point to scrutinize the duty free shops, as they are called. The sales people have it down to a T. I heard one person say “Biula, welcome to Fayjay, would you like to come in and see what we sell? Good prices. Quality goods in here.” He said it with an ‘Austraylian’ accent which sounded like an ‘Austraylian’. And he had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

I went into the shop and was given a tour. Wow, some tourist shops have been doing fantastic customer-focused training for their staff. Seemed like skills honed over decades of sales.

But back to the village. Let’s educate the people on customer service presentation and public relations. The people in town already have that.

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