Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finally a review for the Fiji Media Council - but will it do the job?

HARD on the heels of the Fiji regime's latest PR debacle this week by kicking out one of the finest Pacific journos - TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver (pictured) - a review of the Media Council is finally officially on the table. This is something that has been drastically needed for some time to restore some balance into the Fiji media landscape - and to help blunt the regime's continued assault on media freedom. The $10,000 Ausaid-funded exercise will have a reasonable three-member team on the job. Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman, lawyer and former Fiji Electoral and Boundaries Commissioner Barrie Sweetman and the chairperson of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, Suliana Siwatibau, will begin the four-day review on January 19. But will four days and a limited terms of reference allow them do justice to the task? Hardly. Café Pacific has previously pointed to the 2007 New Zealand Press Council review (first in 30 years) as a good benchmark for such a controversial mission. (A research paper comparing the Fiji and New Zealand self-regulatory media climates is being published in the next edition of Fijian Studies.)

Undoubtedly, this Fiji panel will come up with a far more robust report and recommendations than the discredited Jim Anthony report. But its limited brief is unlikely to satisfy those civil society groups and commentators who are highly critical of the Fiji media, nor is it likely to quell the regime's frustration with what it sees as a one-sided news media industry.

The muted terms for reference for the Fiji media review include looking into:

  • how the Fiji Media Council has carried out its responsibilities as provided for under the constitution
  • the complaints process
  • the relationship with the government
  • its responsibilities to the public
  • the administration of the council and the role and remuneration of the chairman and secretary
  • the funding of the council

Probably the most insightful commentary about what ought to be done with the Fiji Media Council was presented last month by Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster at the University of the South Pacific journalism awards.

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