Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making the Fiji media more transparent

IS FIJI well served by its Media Council? Not proactive enough, say some. Not visible enough, say others. Has the complaints process been rigorous enough? Is it really doing its job on behalf of media freedom? Is the relationship with the industry too cosy in the public mind? For self-regulation to work fairly and in a balanced way, it has to be seen to be genuinely working in the interests of all stakeholders in the Fourth Estate - and that includes the grassroots public, not just the owners, publishers and broadcasters. One of the more reflective Fiji journalists to emerge in the country's moment of need is Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster who gave a thought-provoking speech at the annual awards of the University of the South Pacific's regional journalism programme. While presenting a measured overview of how hell-bent the regime is on pushing through the misguided media law promulgation - and it is all about drafting a law before consultation - Foster said it was about time the self-regulatory Media Council was reviewed:

We suggest a far better approach, and one that will not end up costing the government anything, is to review the Media Council itself, including ways to streamline its processes and make its complaints mechanism more proactive and efficient – and ultimately more effective.
We believe that self-regulation is the way to go. But we also recognise that our detractors believe that self-regulation makes the industry a law unto itself. It is necessary to remove these fears and allay all suspicions in this regard.
As such, the media must make itself more transparent and more accessible to members of the public.

Ironically, this view echoes a conclusion I had reached in a paper - Freedom of the gatekeepers - comparing the 2007 reviews of the NZ Press Council and the Fiji media (Anthony report) presented at the Public Right to Know 7 conference in Sydney in mid-October.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Malo AUT digital student journos!

IT'S GREAT to see all these young Pasifika journos in the making getting into story telling in digital formats. John Pulu, Alistar Kata and Paul Fagamalo have just done us proud with a short news piece on the PIMA 2008 conference and the planned coming (if the the Nats elections debacle hasn't derailed it) of Pasifika television. There was a bit of a delay because of the enormous end-of-semester course pressures. But to me this is what it's all about - producing good quality news and current affairs. You can see it on the Pacific Media Centre YouTube channel. There was a great mood among the media students at AUT University at the time of the conference last month and this should eventually feed into the Pasifika media industry's new generation. Another short programme, done as part of the AUT television course, focused on the ancient Tongan rituals around kava. John Pulu is doing really well - another John Utanga perhaps. Malo guys! Pictured: Some of the PMC and PIMA gang. Photo: Alan Koon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bias over the Fiji charter legal rebuff

YET ANOTHER example of local Fiji media bias ushered in the weekend editions of the press, this time over the High Court ruling that all work must halt on the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. The Daily Post, for example, editorialised in its front page splash story "Charter halted": "Fiji is finally moving forward."

Inexcusable for an intro on the court ruling purporting to be fact. Of course, the next sentence attributed the opinion to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (who incidentally became appointed caretaker prime minister after the George Speight coup in May 2000, thanks to the military). Now, the editorial handling of the story wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the media group is steered by Qarase's first cousin while the editor is his son-in-law.

Secondly, a ruling hours later by the Court of Appeal's Justice John Byrne actually imposing a stay on the judgment by Justice Filimoni Jitoko (until a substantive appeal hearing on Thursday, November 20) didn't get mentioned in the story. (However, it was flagged in a downpage strapline). The regime is seeking a judicial review on the ground that under the Proceedings Act the court cannot order an injunction against the state. Fijilive reported it this way as main news item: Charter work to continue, stay granted: "The interim government has successfully acquired a court injunction that will allow the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to resume work on the People’s Charter."

Other local coverage wasn't much better. Fiji free press at work? Some of the international media coverage was an improvement. Australian Associated Press reported: "Fiji's High Court has delivered a blow to the country's military-led government, ordering it to halt work on a document that would usher in constitutional changes." But even then, it didn't reveal all the fishhooks involved in the legal minefield.

Over at Avaiki Nius, Jason Brown has highlighted a persistent Pacific media problem - no-shows at donor expense. Another good read at the Pacific Media Centre is the latest fallout from the Niu FM saga earlier this year. But things are definitely on the mend. Pere Maitai is doing some great things in rebuilding the news service.

Global Voices version of the contempt letters affair

IRONICALLY, possibly the most informative summary of how Fiji bloggers have reacted to the "draconian prosecution" of the press, has been written by one, John Liebhardt, who has filed a few recent "overview" blogs on Global Voices about Fiji, ranging from the People's Charter to the environment. It doesn't seem to bother Liebhardt that he has been filing from (of all places) Ouagadougou in the African state of Burkina Faso - where he has lived for the past four years. (The IFJ statement statement is still the most direct challenge.) His latest blog on the contempt letters affair involving the Fiji Times and Daily Post kicks off:

For the second time this month, Fiji’s military government has threatened to send a newspaper editor and its publisher to prison for publishing a letter to the editor alleged to be in contempt of court. In mid-October, the Fiji Times and Fiji Daily Post printed a letter from a certain Vili Navukitu of Queensland, Australia, complaining about a recent high court ruling that legitimized the actions of the country’s president in dissolving the Parliament, and the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, immediately following the December 2006 coup that brought into power Commodore Frank Bainamairama.

The item has a few selected quotes from blogs, most anonymous and critical of the regime, but doesn't acknowledge that (1) the letter is arguably in contempt in the first place (although the response of the regime is overkill over what is vigorous debate); (2) contempt doesn't only apply to current court proceedings and the potential for impacting on a case, but also involves "scandalising" a court; (3) news media in Fiji clearly need to lift their game over the professional editing of letters. In countries like New Zealand, news media routinely check the bone fides of letter writers and edit letters over matters such as good taste and potential defamation (and potential contempt). There are also frequent allegations of bias over editorial selection of letters. In fact, letters is the largest category for complaints over fairness and balance against newspapers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Draconian Fiji responses to 'contempt'

FIJI'S JUDICIAL responses to contempt by two local newspapers become sillier and sillier. The contempt laws for scandalising the court were never meant to stifle vigorous debate about court rulings. Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive Rev Akuila Yabaki says the draconian prosecutions "stifle free speech in an oppressive manner". The paranoid climate around the judiciary following last month's controversial High Court judgment declaring the post-coup regime to be legitimate is deteriorating. The contempt proceedings against the Fiji Times, after the newspaper's apology about an online letter to the editor, and now the action against the Daily Post are vindictive. The Attorney-General's office is pressing for the jailing of publisher Rex Gardner and editor Netani Rika.

Quite rightly, the actions have drawn protests from the International Federation of Journalists, representing some 600,000 journos worldwide - which has also taken the opportunity to challenge the regime's plans for a "media promulgation" law. IFJ said it was deeply concerned that "while Fiji's military government is spruiking its draft media law as a means to encourage media freedom and freedom of expression, an independent newspaper is being forced to defend contempt charges for publishing the opinion of a member of the public with which the government disagrees."

For the record, former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry has not dropped his F$1 million defamation case against the Fiji Times as reported by the paper - he has merely amended the claim to drop the parent company, Murdoch's News Limited, from the proceedings.

A-G given 14 days to submit on Fiji Times penalty
Another Fiji daily held in contempt
IFJ statement
Push to jail Fiji Times editor
'We're in contempt' - and full text of the offending letter
Chaudhry's lawyer files amended claims

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