Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Media freedom with 'responsibility' - or chaos in Fiji?

We're always intrigued by the Pacific media hype machine - how the expatriate media cohort manages to present a mostly one-sided view of media freedom issues in Fiji. The story that is fed in Australia and NZ is dominated by the view of the one of the protaganists - the media publishers and their supporters. Rarely do we hear the voice of grassroots journalists, civil society groups and analysts in Fiji who have a different view. The narrow "media freedom" mantra marginalises their view. For example, here is a contrasting view from an experienced and reflective Fiji journalist received by Cafe Pacific:
From a PR perspective, the Evan Hannah affair looks pretty bad on the interim govt - and we'd be right to be condemning the expulsion - but one of the basic rules of journalism is that there are always two sides (sometimes more) to a story: That the IG is not divulging all the reasons for its actions, is a little frustrating for most reporters who are led to conclude that there are no genuine reasons for the expulsion.
But the warning signs have been there all along - I think publishing of the [Dr John] Cameron opinion piece was a push too far over the line . Any journalist who has basic knowledge of subjudice laws knows that one is not supposed to discuss matters before courts in the media.
But even then, its hard to justify expelling the publisher. There are other channels of complaints/courts etc to follow in this for the government. Should the media give more understanding to the government's point of view, that it is tired of calling the media to be more responsible; for the Media Council to advise its members better etc? (This has happened if one looks back over the past few months if not the past year!)
I am trying to take an objective stand on this matter. But my conclusion is that both sides - media and govt - have made mistakes. The question is how far do each test each other's patience.
I feel that the media in Fiji is relatively a lot freer than most nations. That the military has let by and large the media do its work without much interference is a plus considering we've had a military coup not 15 months ago. Should the media continue to push along a line that could lead to sanctioning of the media on more stringent terms than those that are spelt out in the bill of rights of our constitution? I don't think so.
Every right and freedom comes with grave responsibility. If we are to claim those rights/freedoms, then we should also have the maturity to see the consequences of our practising those rights and freedoms; to see whether our actions are in the right/same spirit as that espoused in the constitution; or are we going to serve a certain agenda that
could lead to chaos in the nation?
These are among some very important considerations that the media here has make every day. I don't think they get it right all the time - but we're learning. The thing about learning is that sometimes we have to learn the hard way when we make the same mistakes - the Hannah/Hunter case might be an example, though I might be oversimplifying the matter
as there are many more dynamic factors in the Hunter case.
Both sides can get a little too defensive and jumpy at any little criticism and that's why we are
in such a melee!!


Anonymous said...

While I agree with a few points raised, as someone whoose worked in the Fiji media, I can see how hard it is for reporters and editors to debate what to publish and what not to publish. In a post-coup environment, this is of course very difficult. If it was the mistake of the FT to publish the Cameron article, then what was the Fiji Sun's mistake which led to Russell Hunter being deported? That he published allegations of Mahendra Chaudhry's tax evasions? The military's using any excuse they can get to clamp down on the media and threaten other reporters who dare report against their regime. It's not the fault of hte media. They're just doing their job. Yes they need to do it more responsibly and think of nation building etc in post coup Fiji, but should they hide corruption etc? I don't think so.

laminar_flow said...

Totally agree with the piece. With respect to the comments by anonymous on the issue of MC tax evasion, it is not the media's job to declare someone guilty. Thats for the courts.

If the evidence [tax evasion] was clear cut, why did the Fiji Sun not employ its own reporters to do the job, instead of relying on Victor Lal; who may or may not have an axe to grind.

It is interesting to see how the libel case [Chaudry VS Fiji Times] pans out.

Further to that, if Fiji Sun, Fiji Times were consistent on unraveling corrupt practices, why did they not publish anything critical of Qarase's Government, as seen in the Agricultural Scam case and others; involving sums, far exceeding the tax evasion allegations?

As for the Media Council, they have demonstrated their reluctance to scrutinize and punish their own members and really have not lived up to their own mission statement.

Nor does the Fiji Media Council analyze or publish reports on the Fiji media and measure its objectivity. As I said before, the Media Council is really a cartel that uses "drive by journalism".

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