"The End of Press Freedom in Fiji"
WHEN A PAPER BECOMES A BLOG. Savea Sano Malifa (photo) is the publisher and editor of Samoa's largest newspaper the Samoan Observer, and a staunch advocate of media freedom in his own country where he has suffered death threats and court cases, and in Fiji. His story "The End of Press Freedom in Fiji" has been published by several outlets internationally and in New Zealand by Pacific Media Watch Online. It is an opinion piece, mainly on the Media Decree, and Malifa certainly does not hold back on his opinions.
But he errs in places with his facts. He made a minor error in saying "every article published in a newspaper must have a byline"(it's over 50 words) and a more serious one in saying "journalists convicted of breaching the decree are liable to a fine not in excess of $F500,000, and their editors and publishers are liable to fines not in excess of $F100,000." (It's $100,000 for media organizations, $25,000 for publishers, and $1,000 for reporters and journalists.)
He was wrong also in predicting the demise of the Fiji Times but this was corrected by the PMW editor who, unfortunately did not pick the other errors. Mafila seems to have been citing the draft decree, unaware of the amended final decree published several months ago.
He was, however, correct in linking the Media Decree to Government reforms aimed a multi-racial, multi-culturalism but I don't think the Decree is linked, as he claimed, to "streamlining the distribution of wealth in the country." I don't know how he came to that conclusion. The Decree is certainly not linked with government's design to "help indigenous Fijians improve their earning power" and consequently I can't see how it "fails miserably to bridge the widening gap already existing between them and their now much wealthier counterparts, who are mainly immigrants." Whoever they may be. Chinese and Indians?
Malifa seems to have been taken in by the old argument of the ethnic Fijian extremists who won votes and launched the 1987 and 2000 coups by claiming that itaukei ethnic Fijian extremists who won votes and launched the 1987 and 2000 coups by claiming that itaukei are made poor by rich Indians, when the facts show little income differences between the races, when the median (and not the arithmetic mean) and the distribution of incomes around the mean are taken into account. The only link to the Media Decree is that Government wants to prevent misleading stories and statistics that promote division and racism and not the national unity that Fiji so desperately needs.
And I'm afraid the remainder of the article that is on Fiji is just as confused. I am surprised and disappointed that it was published without comment or correction by PMW and the usual anti-government bloggers. Read it for yourself by clicking the "has been published" link above.
Malifa then went on to write about PasiMA, the regional media organization he chairs that is a breakaway from PINA that it accused of ignoring Bainimarama's curtailment of media freedom, before concluding: "I want to say that PasiMA will work hard to make sure press freedom is returned to the people of Fiji where it belongs. I say this knowing that tyrants come and go but press freedom remains."
All very fine but this is soapbox polemics, not journalism. Many writers consider journalism in the official media a step above blogs but in publishing this, I don't see the difference from many of the other blogs on Fiji.
It will be interesting to read what PasiMA vice-chair Tongan 'Eakalafi Moala had to say at the annual New Zealand-based Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference at AUT University yesterday. His background is similar to Malifa's, and both men think the cap they wear in Samoa and Tonga is a fit-all for all sizes and situations.
If 'Eakalafi is up to date, he will, however, make three observations: the absence of any prosecutions under the Media Decree; the wise words of the new Fiji Times publisher about media responsibility, and the number of articles critical of Fiji Government that have been published lately. Where have the censors gone?