Media Decree Outcry Continues

I will discuss the Media Decree more fully later in the week, comparing what many people wanted changed in the draft decree with its final form. Meanwhile, these comments on reports in the foreign media that in my opinion all suggest a prior prejudgment, with some containing errors of fact or interpretation:

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS. "We note, for example, that the law insists that a news organisation’s executives must all be Fijian citizens and must have been resident in Fiji for at least three years. The aim of this is to prevent experienced foreign journalists from being put in charge of the Fiji Times or any other Fijian media."

This is an error in fact. The requirements noted refer to directors and ownership, not to editors or journalists. I am unsure of the status of a managing director or CEO, but there seems no reason why a Fiji citizen cannot fill this position. The quality of journalism would therefore not be affected.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL states "journalists can still be imprisoned for being critical of the Government”.
This is incorrect and an exaggeration. The decree makes no mention of government, only to content that is against national or public interest or order, that offends good taste, decency or creates communal (i.e.ethnic) discord. The Decree also calls for high standards, especially in quality, balance, fair judgment and range of subject matter. The decision of what constitutes a breach to the Decree lies with the Tribunal judge, and may be appealed in the Courts. Those found guilty can be fined or, in more serious cases, imprisoned. AI omits the checks and balances.

Patrick Holmes, CEO of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand is aware of the provisions noted above: the "Authority set up under the decree is tasked with ensuring that local media do not publish material that threatens public interest or order; is against the national interest; or creates communal discord. It will have wide powers of investigation over journalists and media outlets, including powers of search and seizure of equipment."

Comment. Surely he is not suggesting the media should be allowed to publish material of this kind.As for the powers of search and seizure, they require a magistrate's warrant, and may be appealed in the Courts. In this respect, the Tribunal has powers over the media that our police have in other circumstances.

Stephen Smith said Fiji's move to limit foreign ownership was bad for both investment and freedom of speech. The same article notes the Decree is based on the Singapore model which Smith does not attack.
Comment. It is unclear why the "Singapore model" is denigrated (the country is a model for Third World development); why foreign ownership is needed for freedom of speech, or why foreign investors would be deterred by media foreign ownership limits. If the Singapore model is so bad, why doesn't Australia impose travel bans on Singapore? What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER. John Key described the decree as "very heavy-handed" adding "when a country starts banning the media and telling organisations to sell their newspapers, it is "a step too far". In fact, no media is banned. Many countries put limits and restrictions on foreign ownership, including Australia and New Zealand. Some would argue NZ needs more.

GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY? One reader queried Sharon Smith-Johns comment that "The new Decree will have a positive impact on the economy, human rights, good governance and access to accurate information."
Comment. Fiji has played with media legislation since the early 1990s. Clearly stated legislation, if used properly (and this is the big question), will in the longer term do what Sharon says. More immediately, it  is the scaremongering of the foreign media, and not the Decree, that is bad for investment.

NZ DAILY CALLS CALLS ON FIJIANS TO "OUST DICTATOR."    With a headline that should persuade our leaders than NZ needs a media decree (Editorial: Fijians must take action to oust dictator) the NZ Herald hits out at Fiji on two  grounds: 1) It plans to join the"hotch-potch" of nations in the Non-Aligned Movement, "a gesture doubtless calculated to annoy Wellington and Canberra"; 2) The Media Decree that could close the Fiji Times and "effectively eliminates freedom of expression in Fiji ... In essence, Fijians will no longer know what their rulers are up to."

Editor Greg Bowker echoes NZ Media Freedom Committee Chairman Tim Pankhurst asking NZers to rethink their Fiji holiday, with some vague threat of a future government boycott on tourist travel to Fiji.

Comment. It is unclear how Fiji joining the NAM will annoy Wellington and Canberra. Over 30 Commonwealth countries are members. Or why Fiji should not be equally annoyed about Australian and NZ policies.  Nor is the connection clear between the Fiji Times and freedom of expression. Can only a foreign-owned press be relied upon to protect freedom?  The rethink and boycott suggestions of  Messrs Bowker and Pankhurt should not require comment!

Generally, the Editor needs to be reminded that the job of the media is to provide accurate and balanced information, which the editor has not done. He seems to know nothing of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Media Decree or Fiji, and has added nothing to what has been already been regurgitated by like-minded journalists.  It is not the job of the NZ press to advocate unrest in Fiji.

One must ask: Who pays these people? Who gives them the right to pontificate on matters about which they know so little? Why have we so elevated the Fourth Estate that some of their members think they can write on almost anything and everything sans knowledge, sans research, sans fairness? How can they demand free speech and a free media when they themselves abuse these freedoms?  The NZ media needs to get its house in order before criticising media practices in another sovereign nation.


Liu Muri said…
Whew, Croz. They say, diamond cuts diamond. You need a White man to straighten up the crooked White media in NZ. Very well said and I am sure journalism schools in NZ should take this whole episode, analyse it and tell the new crop of journalism student how NOT to run the mainstream media in New Zealand, so that the new generation of the editors and senior journalists may be more enlightened and lesser blinkered. .Personally, I think the mainstream media in NZ stinks. These idiots, sitting in their ivory tower know very little about Fiji. They are suffering from ostrich syndrome, and here they are pontificating on the Pacific and Fiji which are hardly represented in their newsrooms. They are prostituting their freedom and democracy to China for trade advantages when they failed to support Norman Russell who was abused in the Parliament by the communist Chinese. And here, they are lecturing Fiji on how to run their media.
What a bunch of hypocrites and turncoats!
Anonymous said…

Come on - do you really think the current Government, PM or military want balanced reporting ? They certainly will not allow any view that is contrary to the lines they are spinning to be published. If you lived in Fiji and tried to publish this blog, you would have been shut down and deported long ago. And to think you are positively pro this Government and there efforts. If you where a Fijian passport holder you would have been threatoned as a minimum and possibly charged. You would definately be restricted from travelling overseas. All because you allow some debate and negative comments. You where tolerated on your visit to Fiji only beause a few pointed out your strong pro support for the government and constant dishing of Australia and New Zealand governments. Of course the Fiji Government like this but will not tolerate such critism of themselves. The double standards never cease to amaze me.

On the side line in Viti Levu
imprimatur said…
What a ridiculous and yet predictable hullaballoo: worse than a million 'vuvuzela' all performing at once. The failure of basic logic, the inattention to Singapore, UAE (excellent newspapers albeit controlled) - far better standards of journalism than that exhibited in Fiji over the past twenty years: all points to what the basic problem is: we quite simply fail to understand how badly we have been manipulated and controlled for the sake of filthy lucre and the yearning of owners for power with a global reach. At the end of this exercise, will it finally be realised how 'dumbed down' the Fiji Press had become? Why have they not attempted to print from UAE newspapers, Singapore Press all of which have excellent English, smart and accurate reporting. This meeting with destiny has been a long time coming. In the future, we shall all look back and breathe a sigh of intelligent relief. Second rate news reporting in second rate English was doing no one any favours. Break the mould - start again.
Navosavakadua said…
The claim that other countries have laws like the media decree overlooks one important difference. The laws in other countries have been passed by legislatures. They're not decrees issued by a military junta which has trashed a constitution, ruled out elections for five years and fired the independent judiciary.

And one more thing - the decree is retrospective. It catches companies that have invested in good faith under the laws applicable at the time of their investment.

I can understand that Frank Bainimarama doesn't appreciate this. It's obvious from every interview he's ever given that words like 'retrospective' are not in his C Grade Fiji Junior lexicon.
Imprimatur for what? said…
Imprimatur, what planet are you from? Do you think standards of English expression are going to improve when the foreigners are kicked out? Gimme a break. Who's going to buy the Fiji Times, if at all? Some Gujarati businessman whose idea of media freedom and the public's right to know will be pushing his own interests. And you think they're going to plough money into quality journalism? You're deluded, just like Liu Muri and some of the other people here.
duadua said…
At least five years or so ago, one remembers well calling the Fiji Times on a Sunday to find no one at home (Siga Tabu of course but were they really in Church or just recovering from last night's binge?). The intention was to see if anyone i/c there had an inkling as to the repercussions of taking out US$ loans and other foolish things which might not be easily paid back 'down the line'. No one had a clue - no one was reachable. That is the calibre of newspaper that took over the 'Old Fiji Times' under past editors of some repute. The newspaper became a sick joke: simply a vehicle for SDL propaganda and for making illegal and improper, undeclared political contributions of some magnitude. No wonder the cost of a newspaper rose six monthly (or appeared to?). Now, the Fiji Times in its current 'tenue' has reached the end of the road. They surely cannot be surprised or caught unawares? Although, were they to be so, we ought not to be surprised. Such has been the level of awareness and adroitness throughout this organisation over almost twenty years. Whoever laments the impending situation cannot possibly live in Fiji. They live elsewhere and they purchase newspapers which are marginally worth their purchase price and make some kind of logical sense. The daily distraction of 'typos' even in the headlines is insufferable. They must have seen this on the heaving horizon: a March of Folly brought on by sheer incompetence and a lack of imagination. God Bless Fiji.
Anonymous said…
@ imprimatur for what?

Actually, there are Gujarati-originating businessmen and academics in Fiji of Indian origin who have a much better grasp of the English tongue and language than many writing in or editing the current version of the Fiji Times. One or two of world stature, in fact. So what are you railing on about? Or are you stuck in the groove of OZ knows best? In the UAE, the standard of spoken and written English surpasses anything to be ordinarily encountered in Fiji and they are unconcerned about lifting from elsewhere quality articles and analysis from all kinds of sources. Quality is what counts first and foremost. Excellence indeed. Who asks too many questions about the controls? Undoubtedly, they exist. One is fairly assured that it is a long time since anything approaching 'excellence' appeared in Fiji from 'Down Under'? If this is unduly harsh - so be it. We have satisfied ourselves with the mediocre: in talent and in written forms of expression. Insufficiently humble maybe to recognise or to exult in the best there is from afar? A serious error of judgement.
TheMax said…

Well done. This analysis hit everything on the head. From now on, don't worry about these naysayers about this current government anymore. Fiji is well on the way to a new day with the rebuilding currently being done.

On a lunch hour Fijian radio program today, ordinary indigenous Fijian people are full of praises for Frank's leadership and plans for Fiji. They are beginning to see the truth of why Fiji and especially indigenous Fijians needed to change.

The revolution is well and truly on.
Reality check said…
A few things are coming through clearly in these postings.

1/ If the Fiji Times was looking for support from its readership for its current travails, it can forget it. For too many years, too many people have picked up their paper and found no intellectual nourishment, precious little real news and certainly no style.

2/ There's an incipient prejudice among educated, socially mobile Fiji people - ie. those who visit this site - against foreign influence of any kind. Better a bad local than a mediocre foreigner seems to be the tenor of this debate.

3/ There's also sympathy for the regime in having to confront a paper in the Fiji Times that seemed too often the plaything of people in senior editorial positions, especially Netani Rika and Sophie Foster. These people seemed to run a particular agenda in the minds of their critics and will not be missed, whatever people think about the threat to Fiji's investment image.

4/ The regime keeps saying there's nothing personal about what's happening to the Fiji Times even while it singles it out for special treatment. The AG specifically mentions it, and the new head of the Media Authority also castigates it for being partisan. Let's get real about this. It's about punishing the Fiji Times.

5/ There's a worrying retreat into ultranationalism not by uneducated indigenous Fijians, as we saw with the other coups, but by certain educated people of all races, and especially an Indo Fijian elite. It's certainly a novelty when the likes of Satendra Nandan do a sophisticated version of retreating to the koro by asserting Fiji's independence from the Aussies and Kiwis in particular.

6/ The danger of all of this is in isolating the country from reality and the need to do business with the neighbourhood to survive. The UAE, the Chinese, the Singaporeans and every other alternative presented by the regime for a lasting relationship are a fantasy. You have to deal with the people next door above all, as the American learned with the Mexicans.

7/ The relationship with Australia and NZ cannot afford to be jeopardised right now over such minor things as the irritant of the Fiji Times if we're to survive economically. To bring on this crisis was highly irresponsible given the parlous state of the economy and gave our neighbours more reasons to beat up on us. To those of you who think Fiji can go it alone on this one, good luck. It's a folly of the first order.

So please, can everyone take a deep breath and try not to inflame things further. It isn't going to help and with a faltering economy is reckless and arguably mad.
Joe said…
Now it hurts, doesnt it? The writing was on the wall for a long long time. All that was asked of the media was for a fair and balanced reporting. They (one in particular) chose to ignore it, now pay the price, or on the contrary, the employees will pay the ultimate price. Nobody messess with a military. They dont say "this" and do "that". McCully and Smith should know better. The Fijian community in Oz waiting to hear from Ms Gillard before placing that all important tick, aka democracy. Perhaps Tony Abbot might get in first with his proposed foreign policy in relation to Fiji.
Madness at the NZ Herald said…
I don't agree with a lot of what you say, Croz, but you're spot on about the New Zealand Herald. It was an astonishing editorial that was more worthy of Solvakasama or some other hysterical anti-regime blog than New Zealand's premier newspaper.It seems a classic case of that old saying about a little knowledge being dangerous. The faceless writer knows something about Fiji but not enough to reflect the true position and certainly no idea of the nuances at the heart of the Fiji conundrum. For whoever it is, the dictatorship is all bad and democracy all good when we all know it isn't that simple.

It's incredible that a paper like the Herald would advocate a public uprising in Fiji for two reasons. First, the obvious - that unarmed civilians confronting a ferocious military is a recipe for a bloodbath. But more pertinently, anyone with even the barest knowledge of Fiji knows the country isn't sufficiently roused to do anything other than get enthused about the rugby. As dictatorships go, this isn't a particularly bad one, especially set against the democracy that proceeded it.

The NZ Herald should know that when there's no spark, there's no revolution. A pathetic lack of insight by one of the biggest media outlets in the neighbourhood.
Anonymous said…
Funglius says ..

Joe .. 3 points.

1. Former Fijians in Australia vote on what affects them in Australia now: not what happens in Fiji.
2. Do you really think all Fijians in Australia are united and for the current government in Fiji ? They're as likely divided as anyone.
3. This will be the 3rd leadership change in Australia and the 5 for ANZ combined. Not a single alteration by any politican of any party towards Fiji.
Anonymous said…
@ Reality Check

Who said anything about not doing business with our neighbours? That would indeed be folly both for them and for us in today's wobbly global economy. But it is not too much to ask, surely, that this should be conducted with a parity of esteem on both sides? Too little esteem evident for the past twenty years. An erosion of sovereignty will always pose a hazard. It is this under-estimation that is so galling and surprising. Surely, our neighbours might have been more acute than to assume that a challenge to national sovereignty would not be met with vigour? From those deemed elsewhere to be "Lions of Men"? Even some of our own people have underestimated our military ability at home. That is unfortunate and a mistake. Fiji's honour overseas is particularly evident in the field of military achievements albeit Peace Keeping but this is derived fundamentally from prowess in war. All rights derive from prowess in war. Where the only outcome must be victory.
sara'ssista said…
This regime relies on the failed memories and forgiving nature of those that are really quick to dismiss criticism themselves never wishing to discuss the illegal moves of this regime and using the cover of 'checks and balances' when any decree is promulgated.There were checks and balances before weren't there? people could sue for defamation, and they did, people could source alternative views, which they did, people could write letters to the paper that were critical, which they did and there was more than enough crticism of the previous governments in all of the local papers. it appears however that when you chose to look into any dealings/practices of the military, or their so-called role in the nation, you get into an area which they will not accpet any accounatbility form a government of the day let alone a newspaper.
Anonymous said…
@ duadua

Typos in headlines....? Have you seen today's priceless addition (or Freudian Slip?):


While blandly amusing, this is an example. Have the editorial staff bailed out already? Not that it makes any difference.
sara'ssista said…

'In Fact' this regime is seeking that the media is working and will work at the pleasure of whoever is in power and whoever they appoint to judge. They are only independant insofar that they can be sacked if they incur the displeasure of this regime, including judges and other the appointees. The other mdeia in the region do not abuse their media freedom, they exrecise it.... are criticised and judged against it and held accountable for what they say and do, unlike this regime.
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