Media Decree Outcry Continues
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is aware of the provisions noted above: the "Authority set up under the decree is tasked with ensuring that local media do not publish material that threatens public interest or order; is against the national interest; or creates communal discord.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.
AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER 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.