The Fiji government’s censorship of news content carried by local media outlets could continue indefinitely if media organisations do not learn to comply with directives from the Ministry of Information, says permanent secretary for Information, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni.
Leweni has made it clear that local media should not expect to go back to reporting the way they did prior to April 10 when the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) were enacted, placing strict government controls over news content.
“If you say, to report sensibly, and the way things are happening now, than that would be an answer to that. But if you say it’s to report the way it used to happen, than that’s not going to happen because that’s exactly why this (PER) has come about,” he said.
“It depends on the media outlets. If they’re willing to comply and go the way things are going now, you’ll see an end to this. If they don’t, then I can tell you that this PER will be there for a long while,” he told FijiLive.
Leweni reiterated government’s stance that Fiji’s news media had an “irresponsible” bent by constantly focusing on the negative and carrying one-sided and sensationalised stories in its coverage of politics, crime and most other events, apart from carrying political agendas.
He said in a statement earlier this week, the government had seen it “highly necessary” to extend the PER until June 10 “following its assessment of the media landscape prior to and after the introduction of the emergency regulations”.
“At the moment you can say it is censorship,” he told FijiLive.
“We’re actually setting the standards on what goes and what cannot go. The government’s position is you feed the public with bad things and it registers. In some instances it could lead to people doing whatever’s being published. You’d be surprised if you asked the police for statistics on people breaking the law. They’ll tell you it’s dropped tremendously in the past month.”
“It’s to do partly with the media. You feed the public good things and shape public perception with positive things, they will react accordingly. When you dish out negative issues and a lot of other things like crime, etc, it gets to people and in the end they produce those sorts of activities themselves.”
Leweni said the government had seen “good” results since the controls were enforced over the media and wanted to continue to drive news coverage in that direction by keeping the controls in place.
“If I was given the choice, I’d leave it (controls) there for the next five years,” he said.
“From my discussions with people on the streets, they actually appreciate the news more now with a lot of positive issues being addressed,” he said.
“It was a well known statement before by the news media that bad news sells. But you can see now that it doesn’t work that way always. The media is still selling their newspapers, they still have their news on the radio, television, online and there are a lot more positive issues being addressed in the media now. And it’s also come from government departments that they’re now getting calls from reporters on positive stories whereas before, a lot of them were reluctant to answer questions because it was based mostly on negative issues.”
Leweni said the only way the controls would be lifted would be if media organisations agreed to willingly follow the direction that was being set by his ministry.
“But unfortunately, even now with our people sitting there (in newsrooms) and trying to determine the direction that should be taken, some people decide not to. That has resulted in some people being taken in for questioning by police. So if we already have people there and they (newsrooms) still cannot comply, we really don’t need to say what it would be like without anyone being there.”