All Good Men
LONG DISTANCE VISION. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party" and "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy's dog's back" were two sentences used to teach touch typing. Somehow the good men who make up the International Federation of Journalists got it all mixed up and jumped on to the wrong lazy dog's back.
Never slow to to criticise events in Fiji, the Federation's latest statement, on the Media Decree, does it and its anonymous informants no credit. The statement is flawed by the errors of fact, inference and exaggeration noted below. One might have hoped that Coupfourpointfive -- run by another group of journalists -- in publishing the IFJ release, would have picked up its shortcomings before me.
The IFJ's statements follow, with my comments:
1. IFJ.The Decree "permanently installs the sweeping censorship." Me. This would only be true if there were no checks and balances within the Decree (which there are) and if those appointed to the Authority and Tribunal were totally lacking in professional integrity. Since only one person has been appointed so far, and no cases have been heard, it is difficult to comment.
2. IFJ.The decree is little changed from an April draft that met with international condemnation. Me. This is not true. There are major changes, including a larger and more representative Authority, rights of search, appeals to the Court, extent of fines, and cross-ownership.
3. IFJ.The Decree "erases the rights of journalists and the media to report in the public interest.” Me. This, of course, assumes that the media reports in the public interest, which is disputable, and certainly has not always been the case in Fiji. It's also rather precious for any media group to claim an exclusive right to know what is in the public interest.
4.IFJ. “Fiji’s power-holders need to step back from this coercive and ultimately destructive law, and initiate moves to a cooperative independent regulatory system that is supported by local media and recognised by the international community.” Me. Been there, done that with the "old" Media Council comprising media representatives under Daryl Tarte's chairmanship. Tarte complained of lack of funds to be effective and others said the Council lacked teeth because it had no way of enforcing its decisions. This is why Fiji needs a media decree, that may or may not be supported by the media (I suspect many Fiji jojurnalists think the Decree is fair) , and whether it is or is not acceptable to foreigners. Its foremost responsibility is to the people of Fiji.
5.IFJ. The law provides for two government-appointed bodies. A Media Tribunal will comprise one member appointed by the President. A Media Industry Development Authority will have six members appointed by the Minister for Information. Me. The one Tribunal member is a judge. How many cases need more than one? Ministers in many countries make similar appointments to quasi-government authorities.
6.IFJ. Under the law, the regime and its authorities will decide what is fair, balanced and quality journalism. Me. Those appointed under the Decree will ensure -- and not the "regime or its authorities"-- “that nothing is included in the content of any media service which is against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord”. What is wrong with that?
7. IFJ. The IFJ fears for journalists and media organisations, which can be fined and jailed if the tribunal rules that news reports breach the regime’s media codes, including its Media Code of Ethics and Practice. Me. If they break the rules, they will be penalised. The codes seem reasonable and I doubt anyone would object to anything in the code of ethics.
8.IFJ. The tribunal may also order compensation of up to $100,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 50,600) be paid by media organisations to “any person aggrieved or adversely affected” by media reports. Me. Right. Our courts can impose even stiffer penalties under our libel laws. Note that it is the organization and not its editors or journalists than can be charged under this provision.
9.IMF. "This action clearly targets the Fiji Times. Me. Right, and with cause. Write "Fiji Times" in the Search facility on this blog to read about Fiji Times transgressions over the past two years. If the IFJ think the Fiji Times has been an "independent critical voice," they are dreaming. Before April 2009, the FT printed anti-government items at a ratio of four to one; since then it has printed almost NO government news!
10.IFJ. The right of appeal against tribunal decisions is only available where a penalty or compensation payment of $50,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 25,300) has been ordered. Me. Section79 (2) refers only to organizations, not to editors or journalists for whom no minimum is stipulated.
So there you have it. Another well intended but uninformed and unbalanced denunciation from offshore experts, few if any of whom have ever been to Fiji. There are concerns about how the Decree will be used (and I shall write about these as time goes on) but it is not the draconian document its critics would have their readers believe.
I opened with notes on touch typing. A children's song seems an apt way to conclude:
If you go down to the woods today
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely down in the woods today
But safer to stay at home.
For ev'ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.
Don't go down to the woods today, the journalists are having a picnic.