Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fiji media called "cowardly"

In the nuclear fallout from the abrogation of the draft constitution, which has been called Coup 5, much finger pointing has resulted. Most of it has been rightly directed at the regime, which abrogated the Ghai draft. I have been trying to spotlight the efforts of regime propagandists in the Trash Ghai smear campaign that led up to the predictable abrogation. Maybe it's because I was recently given the full Fiji Sun/Grubby & Croz treatment and run out of the country that I can see similarities with the regime's efforts to discredit Professor Ghai. But now a finger has been pointed at the Fiji media, which the Fiji Labour Party has called "cowardly" and even "cowed and intimidated." 
It appears to be operating under a rigid form of self-censorship in refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies and actions. Either that, or it is still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast. Either way, the situation is to be deplored.
Hmmm. Where have we heard this before? The last time I tried to suggest that the Fiji media practiced self-censorship, I came under attack from Legend FM for two days. BTW, my complaint to the Media Authority about the underhanded tactics used by CFL in that case is still alive, despite my departure from Fiji. Media Authority chair Professor Subramani has informed me that the complaint is proceeding and that he has ordered CFL to produce recordings that should substantiate my claim. The irony is that even Sharon Smith-Johns, the regime's pit bull propagandist, admitted in that case that the Fiji media were self-censoring. She 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.” What's ironic about this is that SHE IS THE REASON THEY ARE SELF-CENSORING!!!

Sorry, I didn't mean to shout. I have to stay in control here. No cursing. No shouting. Calm down. Breathe. Nice, reasonable facts and arguments. OK, I'm good to go again. So is there any merit in the FLP's claim that the Fiji media are "operating under a rigid form of self-censorship" or "still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast?" Well, I'm not in Fiji anymore, so it's hard for me to tell whether the news media there are "refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies and actions." It should be fairly obvious to those consuming media there. Oh, I could go online and check the Fiji Times website and even watch the Fiji TV news if I wanted. Oh, all right then. In the interests of due diligence let's check out the Fiji Times website. Well, there's this piece of finger-pointing at the president. So you mean it wasn't Frank and Aiyaz at all but Ratu Epigram? Well, I guess he'll just have to go. Who shall replace him? I wonder. . . .

I also digress.  What about Fiji TV? After all, it and the Times are about the only major news media outlets in the country likely to run anything against the regime. Well, a quick look at its website doesn't show anything likely. What about Fiji Village, the CFL website? Nope, just the official line from the A-G throwing Epigram under the bus. Not surprising. From what I can tell, Vijay Narayan is as deep in the regime's pocket as Peter Lomas is. FBC? Sorry, just kidding. Yes, I know it's owned by the government and run by the A-G's brother. What about Fiji Live? I haven't been able to figure out a bias for them yet. Bingo! There is is: "Govt’s decision is unacceptable, says SDL." So it's not true to say that ALL Fiji media are self-censoring. Just most.

To answer the FLP's question, it's not an either/or proposition whether Fiji media are "operating under a rigid form of self-censorship" or "still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast." Those two are not mutually exclusive. What is happening is that Fiji media are self-censoring BECAUSE of the pressure put on them by Smith-Johns and her minions at MINFO. Ever since the lifting of the PER, which saw censors physically exit Fiji newsrooms, Smith-Johns has inundated any media outlet which might be tempted to print or broadcast anything remotely critical of the regime with complaints under the Media Decree. It provides fines and even prison sentences for journalists who violate what were once ethical guidelines, but the problem with the Media Decree is that it is quite vague in places, like in Section 22: "The content of any media service must not include material which . . . is against national interest." And who decides what is in the national interest? You got that right! Then there's Section 1(d) of Schedule 1 Media Code of Ethics and Practice, which is the former code of ethics of the Fiji Media Council. Now turned into a criminal code by the regime, it states: "Media organisations have a duty to be balanced and fair in their treatment of news and current affairs." According to MINFO, which has apparently inundated certain media outlets with complaints under this provision of the decree, balance means that you have to get the government's side of any story to do with government. If they don't want to give their response, you can't run the story.

Much uncertainty revolves around the Media Decree because, more than a year after lifting of censorship under the PER, no rulings have yet issued from the Media Authority on any of the complaints that have been made. Media outlets thus have no guidelines on how provisions of the decree will be applied. I have asked Professor Subramani for disclosure of both complaints and their disposition, but to date no disclosure has resulted. As much as anything, this is what has created great uncertainty over what news media in Fiji may and may not report. I have been told some chilling tales off the record by senior media people that the regime has threatened to put them out of business if they dare publicise any opposition to their policies. For evidence of that, one need only look to the $500,000 fine the regime wants imposed on the Times for contempt of court after it ran a soccer story from New Zealand that mentioned quite peripherally (and correctly) that there is no rule of law in Fiji. Or how about the TV Decree, which put Fiji TV on notice with licences lasting only six month instead of the usual 12-year term? If that doesn't qualify as blatant media intimidation, what would?

So are Fiji media practising self-censorship in refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies, or are they still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast? Sometimes the answer really is All of the Above. Are they "cowardly" for giving in to regime intimidation? That might be a little bit harsh, but not by much. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to show some courage. Or maybe not. We'll see. I have offered the media analysis contained in this blog to the Times free of charge, in an arrangement similar to what Grubby Blogger has with the Sun, but I have received no reply. The FLP has nailed one part of its analysis, however. The situation is surely to be deplored.

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