(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:-
- 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.
- Sections 6(2) and 9 be struck out to ensure the independence of the role the Media Authority.
- 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.
- 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
- Art 19 UDHR (Freedom of opinion and expression).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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