Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Journalists themselves admit there is no self-censorship

Well, I guess that settles that. There is no self-censorship in the Fiji news media, according to CFL. At least that’s the conclusion they have come to after interviewing several of their fellow journalists. This is great news. A lot of needless concern will now be alleviated. Personally, I am greatly relieved that this is settled because, frankly, I was getting worried.

I don't know how I could have been so wrong. And not just me, of course, but others. Like Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns. Why else would she have urged Fiji journalists to “report fully and without fear or favour” and to not use the Media Decree “as an excuse not to do their jobs.” And apparently other folks have also had their facts backwards, too. Like Matilda Bogner, the United Nations Human Rights representative for the Pacific. She actually DID do a study on this subject for World Press Freedom Day in May. Here's what she said.
It appears that a culture of self-censorship continues to exist for journalists in Fiji. 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.
Then there are the women's rights groups in Fiji that say they had newspaper advertisements rejected that highlighted issues concerning the ongoing constitutional review process. Shamima Ali of the Fiji's Women's Crisis Centre said two weeks ago that both daily newspapers in Fiji told them to tone down the language in the ads.
"One of them wanted to have a meeting to tone down the ad, which we refused to do, and a spokesperson from there said 'I hope you understand'," she said. "The other said 'sorry we can't', after deliberating on it for nearly two and a half days."
Talk about a climate of fear. They're even reportedly turning down advertising, which newspapers rarely do. And just yesterday, the Fiji Labour Party demonstrated that it, too, was labouring under an illusion in its submission to the Contitutional Commission hearings. "The media in Fiji continues to operate as though it is still under strict censorship," it said. "Indeed, the environment is still quite substantially coercive and threatening." It cited the Television (Amendment) Decree 52, under which the licence of any television station that contravenes the 2010 Media Decree can be revoked by the minister responsible without appeal, as an example of press intimidation. "We do not have an independent, free, liberated media in Fiji. The fines for incurring the wrath of the regime are so excessive that no media organization would dare fall foul of it."
The repercussions of such a cowed media are fatal for the success of a “free and open” consultation process. Articles, opinions or comments that question the regime or oppose its views are rarely, if ever, run. For instance, not a single mention was made in the news pages of the Fiji Times of the Constitution Commission’s media conference held on 19 July 2012. The Fiji Times ran a feature article two days later buried in the inside pages of its publication. How many people would have read the strong criticism voiced by Commission Chair Professor Yash Ghai, particularly of Decrees 57 and 58?
At our symposium last week, the topic of self-censorship became a bit of a sore point. CFL news director Vijay Narayan, who never responded to my attempts to recruit him to sit on a panel on this topic at our symposium, appeared anyway in his role as a journalist and made a speech from the front row. "Everyone who is commenting on claims that there is widespread self-censorship in the country are making comments without any proper surveys conducted with journalists and media outlets,” he said. To which Fiji Times lawyer Richard Naidu deliciously retorted: “To suggest that the media is not operating under a set of self-censorship rules means that one of us is on the wrong planet.” Watch the video here. In reporting on this controversy today, Alex Perrottet interviewed Fiji TV's legal manager, Tanya Waqanika, who said that Fiji journalists are still afraid to ask tough questions because of the penalties contained in the Media Decree. “The journalists, they see the penalties,” she told Perrottet. "If you were in that situation, and there’s a court case currently against the Fiji Times, for any person, it freaks them out. No one wants to be fined.” Perrottet, who is researching his Master's thesis on this topic at Auckland University of Technology, even gave us a preview of his research on AUT's website Pacific Media Centre.
There is extensive evidence that due to censorship, the print media in Fiji is suffering from self-censorship, as they are not sure where the line will be drawn by the government.
So I don't know why CFL is shooting at me every day. I'm not even the messenger. I'm only an educator. And I obviously have a lot of work to do.

1 comment:

  1. I think if local journalists actually investigated stories, and wrote with hard evidence to back their issues then they should have nothing to worry about.

    The majority of "Journalists" in Fiji who write in regards to Govt and politics, do so with an agenda, and that's what stirs up the trouble.

    I always thought that good journalists, particularly those who write for the so called "Free Press" need to be very subject and neutral.

    But half the Journos here are just reporters who bring nothing interesting to anything they write and the others are borderline Gonzo journalists who cough up bloated/ often unfounded opinion pieces that go no where constructive or insightful.