Today is World Media Freedom Day and it is important to emphasise that along with this freedom goes grave responsibilities for a free, independent and unbiased media.
For almost three years since April 2009 the Fiji media was subject to severe censorship under the Public Emergency Regulations (PER), unable to print or broadcast freely without approval from the Information Ministry. No statements from political parties or any other organization questioning government policies and actions were permitted.
This restriction was removed in January with the lifting of the PER. Yet,it is disturbing to note that the Fiji media is still not providing fair and balanced reporting. Most media organisations it has been noticed are still very timid about printing statements issued by political parties.
FLP statements, for instance, on issues of national interest are rarely given coverage. When it is published, it is either delayed or buried inside a government response which is given prominence.
FLP notes the statement on the state of Fiji media issued by the regional Pacific office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights to mark World Press Day.
Matilda Bogner OHCHR regional representative expressed concern that “a culture of “self censorship” still exists in Fiji despite the lifting of the PER. She said, and we quote:
“Press freedom in Fiji is also a serious concern, despite the January removal of Public Emergency Regulations (PER), which restricted the right to public assembly and freedom of expression and gave the authorities broad powers of arrest and detention.
Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights NaviPillay had welcomed the lifting of the PER in Fiji as a step in the right direction and encouraged the Fiji Government to build on the momentum with concrete steps to ensure full respect for the rule of law and human rights.Despite this, however, it appears that a culture of self-censorship continues to exist for journalists in Fiji, says Bogner, adding “a preliminary media content analysis conducted recently by my office, comparing Fiji’s two main daily newspapers, the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun, before and after the lifting of the PER, suggests that there has been no distinguishable change in the level of criticism of the Fiji Government observed in either newspaper.“
This is a timely occasion for the Fiji media to take a critical look at itself in the light of its own Media Code of Ethics. Is it disseminating news fairly, accurately and in a balanced manner to the people of Fiji? Are all important points of view getting through to our people?
Media coverage of the recent visit to Fiji of the Forum Ministerial Contact Group will serve to illustrate our concerns. In its coverage of the event, Fiji TV chose to completely ignore the fact that the Group met jointly with the three political party leaders – Laisenia Qarase, Mick Beddoes and Mahendra Chaudhry. Its coverage was restricted to the MCG’s meetings with government officials.
FBC TV and other media organisations, on the other hand, gave a much more comprehensive and fair reporting of the event. This shows that it was either bias or self-censorship brought about by fear of reprisal from the regime that stopped Fiji TV from reporting the Group’s meeting with the political leaders.
The Fiji Media will need to play a significant role as Fiji embarks on its constitutional process in the path back to democracy via general elections. It will need to fairly and accurately disseminate all points of view and important developments withour fear or favour.
Media bosses need to decide now whether they will discharge their duty to the nation with courage and responsibility or will they continue to succumb to fear.
The Media, as the fourth estate, has a significant role to play in the development of a healthy, democratic nation. It is part of the checks and balances that operate in a democratic environment but this can only happen if they play their part with courage and responsibility.