Former journo tackles the Fiji Sun on new decree and regional freedom group urges Fiji media to steer clear of it
As a former journalist and mentor to some of the current practising journalists in Fiji, I cannot help but question the intention behind the new State Proceedings (Amendment) Decree 2012 as reported in your article of 9 February, titled "Media protected".
Lest I be liable under the Public Order (Amendments) Decree 2012, let me state at the outset that I am penning this letter as someone with a genuine interest in the development of responsible journalism and that I offer my opinions in the spirit of "transparent discussions" as mooted by Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in the aforementioned article.
The provisions of the Decree appear to be modelled on the State Proceedings Act which afforded Members of Parliament certain privileges relating to their utterances in Parliament which would have otherwise opened them to court action if uttered in public.
First and foremost, the Parliamentary Privilege provision as correctly pointed out by Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is applicable in most Commonwealth countries which have adopted the Westminster system of governance.
However, both Mr Sayed-Khaiyum and your newspaper have failed to point out the obvious to the reading public: that current ministers in Fiji were never elected; there is no Parliament in existence; and, the more important fact that Parliamentary Privilege does not extend beyond the doors of a properly constituted Parliament.
What the Decree does do is give all current government ministers the freedom to say whatever they wish to say, publicly or privately, defamatory or otherwise, and not be liable for their actions.
Despite the fact that the Public Order (Amendments) Decree 2012 does provide safeguards against issues like defamation, libel and slander, it is my humble opinion that this latest Decree contradicts those very provisions.
What is more appalling is the "carrot" being offered to media outlets to publish statements by ministers without fear of prosecution. The same "carrot" is not offered in the case of injured parties wishing to respond to any targetted criticism by government ministers.
This, again, is in direct conflict of the Code of Ethics contained in the Fiji Media Industry Decree, where fairness, accuracy and balance are essential pre-requisites for responsible journalism.
The other worrying aspect of this Decree is that it will remain in force until a new Parliament is set in place. This gives current government ministers an unfair advantage if they are to contest the next general elections. This Decree stacks the election campaign in their favour as it gives them aboslute freedom to tear an opponent's character to shreds without fear of prosecution.
In the spirit of transparency, I would very much appreciate a more convincing explanation from Mr Sayed-Khaiyum as to how this Decree will "facilitate transparent discussions and exchange of views".
Signed: Dennis Rounds
Lot 28 Vasatial Road
Laucala Beach Estate
Defamation protections for Fiji regime unwelcome, says PFF
PFF, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS -- Fiji's journalists are being warned to steer clear of the latest media-related decree and stick to ethical standards to guide their reporting of regime speeches and statements.
The warning comes in the wake of the country's new state proceedings decree, which grants Fiji's regime leader and his ministers exemption from defamation suits over anything they may say in public or private.
Signed off on January 19th by the nation's President, the regime issued a statement this week claiming the decree will strengthen public discussion and consultation in the lead-up to planned elections in 2014.
"Defamation and libel restrictions are a cornerstone of journalism ethics training and the practice applies whether a country has defamation laws or not. A leadership which protects itself but not its people from defamation suits cannot expect that to be welcome news. We urge and support our colleagues in Fiji to apply caution in interpreting this decree, and to resist any confusion with parliamentary privilege which is only applied by democratically elected leaders, only in their official capacity, and only from the Parliament floor," says PFF chair Titi Gabi from Papua New Guinea. "Of all the decrees introduced by the regime this is the most blatant in its elitist protection of the regime leader and his ministers. The claim it will foster and open public debate because the media won't be facing defamation lawsuits over any stories quoting the regime leadership is a farce. Along with the Media Decree, this one should be immediately revoked."
"The best way to open public debate towards meaningful progress is to ensure the right to speak and be heard, to ask questions and to challenge ideas and policies, is to ensure everyone involved is able to openly do so," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller from American Samoa.
"This is yet another regime decree which adds to the current Media and other decrees shaping what is expressed in public and who says it. We stand by those media colleagues in Fiji who will strive in difficult times to uphold ethical standards, especially as they seek balance and right of reply from individuals and groups who may soon bear the brunt of the latest edict", she says.--ENDS
Decree announced: http://fijivillage.com/?mod=story&id=0802129451fb595af42a6c83cc7e4e