#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Draft decree 'draconian and punitive'

Friday, April 9, 2010

Draft decree 'draconian and punitive'

Fiji’s draft media decree is draconian and punitive and will fail as a development communication model, says the head of the New Zealand-based Pacific Media Centre.

“Many aspects of the draft law are deeply disturbing and the harsh proposed penalties for editors and journalists who fall foul of the rules will curb any hope of a return to an independent Fourth Estate,” said associate professor David Robie, the centre director.

“This will be a blow to media freedom throughout the Pacific and provide a damaging precedent for other politicians keen to rein in a free press.”

The draft Media Industry Development Decree 2010 provides for the establishment of a Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) to “encourage, promote and facilitate” news media organisations and services at a “high standard” and a statutory Media Tribunal to judge complaints against media.

Dr Robie also condemned the new provision restricting foreign ownership to 10 percent of a media organisation and directorships to Fiji citizens who have been residing in the country for five of the past seven years.

“This is clearly a vindictive section aimed at crippling the Fiji Times, the country’s largest and most influential newspaper, which is owned by a Murdoch subsidiary, News Limited,” he said.

“The regime wants to put the newspaper out of business, or at least effectively seize control.”

He said other media, such as the struggling Fiji Daily Post, which has a 51 per cent Australian ownership, would also be hit by this restriction.

Other concerns about the draft law cited by Dr Robie, who is also convenor of the PMC’s Pacific Media Watch project at AUT University, included:

•           Too much power being vested in the ministerial-appointed director of the MIDA and chairman of the Media Tribunal. Both agencies needed wider community representation and independence.
•           The power to investigate suspected breaches of the decree and to search and seize documents and equipment (with a warrant) – this would be the “death knell” of investigative journalism.
•           A requirement that all news reports publish a “byline” identifying the author.
•           The power to punish media organisations guilty of an offence under the decree with a fine of up to F$500,000, and individual editors and journalists with a fine of up to $100,000 or a maximum jail term of five years.
•           The power to proactively investigate a media organisation without a public complaint being filed.

“This opens the door to vindictive abuse in a climate of dictatorship and the singling out of media organisations that do not toe the regime line,” he said.

“There is a case to be made for better engagement by media on national development issues, but this should be achieved through more journalism training and education and more support for the country’s journalism schools and training institutions, such as the University of the South Pacific,” Dr Robie said.

“A government cannot legislate people’s minds. Much more can be achieved by freeing up the media environment, backing off from censorship and engaging with the media in a more cooperative manner.

“To get its own side of the story across, the Fiji regime should establish a national news agency like many developing countries do and let the media get on with its job of reporting unfettered in the public interest.”

Codes of ethics previously administered by the self-regulatory Fiji Media Council have been incorporated into the draft decree as statutory schedules.

It is not yet clear what future role the council would have as the authority and tribunal would overtake its powers.-Pacific Media Centre/Pacific Media Watch


ex Fiji tourist said...

from 'The Australian'

Junta to strangle Fiji press freedom

FIJI'S military-backed rulers have unveiled plans for a crackdown on the media in which journalists could be jailed for five years and newspapers fined $F500,000 ($280,000) for accurately reporting news a government agency says offends "good taste and decency".

Draft rules unveiled this week would establish a powerful new agency that could seize any documents from the media, force editors and journalists to disclose confidential sources, and force the media to publish statements dictated by the agency.

Disputes involving the agency's powers would be diverted from Fiji's courts to a special tribunal where normal rules of evidence would not apply.

The scheme is contained in a draft media industry development decree that would also prevent foreign media companies such as News Limited (publisher of The Australian) from owning more than 10 per cent of individual media organisations.

Fiji's plans to restrict foreign ownership of media were condemned yesterday by the federal government and opposition, and the Australian Press Council.

News Limited's Fiji Times newspaper is facing closure under the new rules.

According to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the erosion of media freedom by Fiji's military-led junta, which took power in a 2006 coup, is a matter of concern.

"We are concerned with reports that . . . the interim government is attempting to censor media organisations . . . that prohibit reporting that is against the public or national interest," a DFAT spokesman said.

Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman said the decree marked another step by the junta to inhibit the freedom of Fiji's journalists.

Through this decree, and by putting soldiers in newsrooms, it was attempting to control the news by intimidation, he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said the decree was designed to crush free speech and entrench the regime. "I would expect the Rudd government to step up its calls for Fiji to hold elections without delay."

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said the decree was "an authoritarian imposition by a regime with no democratic legitimacy".

Anonymous said...

Rudd goverment via DFAT claims it "is a matter of concern'?

What a load of bureaucratic crap.

Maybe Rudd & Smith & their DFAT wunderkinds can explain how Duncan Kerr's former position as Pacific Secretary still remains vacant?

Shows how much they care about their own backyard - area of responsibility?

Be interesting what line they'll spin when Indo Fijians shart showing up seeking political asylum?

Anonymous said...

Rudd is too interested in China to care enough about Fiji. Australia and NZ should take responsibility for allowing this dictatorship to blossom in their own front yard. It is appalling.

Anonymous said...

I agree. On small basics both NZ and OZ have shown inconsistncies and incompetencies. A few shining moments for Herr McCully but Bainipyjamas too defiant for him. Travel bans have been broken to allow snr ministers in on fiji business and humanitarian cases. Diplomatc missions still in place and so on but NZ andOZ both insist the way through these hardened hotheads is to keep talking. No one wants to be the next coup leader just to get rid of these goons but at the same time, any hope they have looking to international community especially NZ and OZ is fated to end in disappointment.

Anonymous said...

This could have been nipped early.

Couple of years back (in defiance of their own travel embargo) president IIoilo was visiting AUS on a regular basis for medical treatment. It was suggested to DFAT
that this treatment should be withdrawn for the 'president' - but not the 'person'.

If he resigned his position - no problem.

DFAT's reaction to real hard ball politic? No we can't do that - would be 'undiplomatic and inhumane' - treatment continued.

And this is where we are right now?

Anonymous said...

It's happened eslewhere in the world, brother...Fiji's not the first to be betrayed by a regional or superpower the way we have over the travel bans and the diplomatic perks for the hierarchy. Every government has strings that can be pulled or who act for expediency. Note, the boffins behind the governments, in the foreign affairs ministerires and the foreign desk, they're spinning, too. Bad mix all round.

Anonymous said...

What gets up my nose is the sheer hypocricy of them - especially DFAT.

If they came out and said "OK Fiji your on your own - sort it out yourselves". Wouldn't like it - but I'd accept it.
All the Canberra boffins are doing at present is spinning lie after lie in order to preserve their own positions - hide their gross incompetence.