Thursday, April 8, 2010

'Camouflaged censorship' in Fiji and PINA's silence

THE SILENCE is deafening from the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association - once the undisputed champion of media freedom in the region. Not a beep over the implications of the draconian Media Industry Development Decree in Fiji. Behind the scenes, there are many disgruntled Pacific journalists who are bitterly disappointed at the donor-funded body's failure to show leadership. For many, the refusal of the PINA to relocate from Suva to another Pacific capital has seriously compromised the regional organisation.

While Global Voices Online has compiled another good overview of cyberspace responses and the Pacific Media Centre condemned the 'draconian and punitive' draft decree, media report that PINA is still adopting a wait-and-see approach. The decree will impose tight restrictions on foreign media ownership which will hit the Rupert Murdoch News Ltd-owned Fiji Times hard - and perhaps even lead to the demise of the country's oldest and most influential newspaper. But it will also impact on the Fiji Sun (expatriate directors) and the Daily Post (majority Australian shareholding). Ten percent foreign ownership of "beneficial" shares is the limit.

But it is also not clear what will happen to the PINA whose Suva-based news service Pacnews is not Fiji-owned. Suva-based manager Matai Akauola, who recently admitted being hampered by censorship, says it is too early to adopt a strong position. He told Radio New Zealand International:
PINA would like to try to meet with its members, like Fiji TV, Fiji Times, Fiji Sun before we could come to a conclusion on how we see this media decree. You could just gather from the meeting that they have their own point of view, so it would be good to sit down one-on-one with the various organisations.
Last week, PINA vice-president, John Woods, broke ranks and called for the organisation to relocate. He also strongly criticised PINA for "kowtowing to the Fiji censors", saying this was contrary to what the organisation stood for - freedom of expression.

A SWOT analysis of PINA staying in Suva, compiled by by outspoken Avaiki Nius editor Jason Brown, reads:
Strengths: strong familiarity with regional centre and diplomatic community in Suva

Weaknesses: extensive evidence of regional positions going mainly to Fiji residents, leading to a failure in transparency and accountability to those members outside Fiji

Opportunities: playing a significant and enduring role in helping Fiji return to normalcy, facilitating effective regionalism

Threats: continued censorship and Fiji-centric approach to regionalism, possible ouster due to law changes
But the most insightful comments come from a colleague on the ground in Suva:
The draft Fiji Media Decree adds further fuel, I believe, to the PINA debate. While PINA is a professional organisation, the Pacnews service is a news (media) service which admittedly, is regional in focus and regional in ownership (through PINA). It is, nevertheless, a media service.

How will Pacnews be viewed by the interim regime - as a "foreign-owned" entity? Given the decree's requirement that Fiji-based media organisations/entities be 90 percent Fiji-owned and that all directors be resident Fiji nationals there are indeed questions PINA will, sadly, now have to address with regards to Pacnews' future.

If, the interim regime makes an exception for PINA/Pacnews - again, sadly, this will only further fuel the accusations that PINA is "accommodating" towards the interim government. Some interesting times ahead with some difficult decisions to be made!!!

It will definitely be interesting to see which way the Fiji Times goes - toe the line and accept the 10 percent shareholding; sell their Fiji flagship (maybe to Fiji Sun?); or close down and have all their equipment shipped abroad to expand/improve one of News Corp's other newspapers? (What are the chances that the interim-regime will back down and accept a 49 percent foreign ownership?? Any one for bets??)

It's also interesting to see Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum arguing the Fourth Estate debate in favour of media organistaions when his own interim regime and most other governments tend to dismiss the media's "fourth estate" role. It is also a great pity that most of his arguments about the Fiji Times ownership is to do with the fact that the newspaper has not given the interim regime the recognition/legitimacy it feels it deserves. Media organisations are business entities - just like other commercial organisations.

If you are going to argue loyalty to a country (more so to an unelected government in this case) where do you draw the line? What about other foreign owned companies in Fiji? Already, we have the Reserve Bank of Fiji leaning on Fiji-based but mostly foreign-owned banks to be "culturally conscious" of the needs of Fiji's people. What next, - demand that Fiji-based but foreign-owned companies declare their loyalty to the government of the day?

Interesting that mention is made of plagiarism but there is no acknowledgement in the draft that the Code of Ethics is an almost complete "lift-out" from the Fiji Media Council!! In all this, there are some good aspects to the decree but by and large, it simply continues (although in camouflaged form) the censorship the interim regime has put in place.

To media freedom.....

1 comment:

go said...

He won’t listen of course but the army coup commander will eventually be taken over by the coup of the human being who resent being controlled. The art of mind control works, but eventually it does break down. Has the Commodore not heard of the breakdown of totalitarian regimes during the hundred years and even during the last week in Kyrgyzstan?

An academic at the University of the South Pacific in Suva would be delighted to enlighten him on the rise and demise of the mind controllers. Some escape to foreign countries, some get shot, some are lucky and die in their beds but all of them have to give way eventually to citizens who want to lead their own lives, in their own way and to provide for their children.

I wonder which way you will end your career, Commodore? I think you will have the luck to have numerous epitaphs, some written by the sycophants, others by your enemies and a few by independent thinkers who will assess you positive and negative side. I will look forward to reading the epitaph written by Brij Lal.

Would I be wrong in forecasting that if you want to control The Fiji Times, you will have to find the money to pay Rupert Murdoch and so postpone giving that money to implementing the principles of the People’s Charter?

The newspaper will need constant propping up with funds as the circulation falls. To reduce these costs, will you dismiss many of the journalists and use the government information more?

I guess if circulation goes down, the army (the present government) will advise…tell… intimidate… all civil servants to buy a daily copy. Good news will be in abundance of course,. Negative news will also be reported … thank you Frank, Fiji’s honest Iago.

What is the final solution for the newspaper? Close it down or pass a decree making it yours. Rename it… “ My Frank News”.

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