Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Misconceived? Frivolous? Something is not quite right here

Professor Subramani
Media Tribunal
Media Industry Development Authority
Suva, Fiji


Dear Professor Subramani,

As a Professor of Literature, I am sure you are well aware of the power of words. When you informed me earlier this week that my complaint against Communications Fiji Limited had been dismissed by MIDA as “misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous,” your words stung badly. I began to doubt the validity of my complaint, which I was able to justify to you in great detail with reference to specific sections of the Media Decree.  I have since revisited the facts as I set them out to you and also re-read the sections of the Decree which I say should apply to those facts. After doing so, I remain convinced of the validity of my complaint. To be told that it was “misconceived” and “frivolous” is mystifying indeed. Yours is a quasi-judicial body, and as such I feel it is insufficient to simply state that a complaint has or lacks merit, especially in the language you have used. Reasons should be given to support the dismissal and the terms in which it is expressed. This is especially important with a new body such as yours, which has issued few or (to my knowledge) no previous rulings. Legislation such as the Media Decree is often unclear and ambiguous, thus requiring interpretation. Accumulated jurisprudence, in the form of rulings by your group, will be of assistance to journalists in understanding what is and is not acceptable behavior according to the Decree, and to MIDA.

As set out in my complaint, I believe that the request for an interview which I received from Legend FM reporter Dhanjay Deo on 11 September last amounted to “subterfuge” as set out in Section 5 of the Media Decree because he did not “use straightforward means to obtain information.” The true subject of the interview was not what he told me it would be. It was, in short, an “ambush” interview or a classic “bait and switch.” Note that I am not complaining about how Mr Deo browbeat me and continually cut me off during the interview. That would not be covered by the Media Decree under my reading of it. Such behavior is instead a matter of common courtesy – or lack thereof – and was adequately addressed by my termination of the interview. When Legend FM and other CFL radio stations broadcast portions of my interview, however, I believe they were contravening Section 5 of the Media Decree because it was obtained by use of subterfuge. It also may have contravened Section 23 of the Decree because the interview was clearly not “arranged, conducted, and edited fairly and honestly.” As a potential interviewee, I was entitled under this section “to know in advance the format, subject, and purpose” of the interview. I was instead the victim of journalistic misrepresentation. As mentioned in my complaint, this unethical – indeed illegal – behavior by Mr Deo was aggravated by Mr Narayan, the news director of CFL, to whom I complained. His inclusion in the story that was broadcast on CFL radio stations and posted on of portions of what I said in my complaint to him similarly contravened Sections 5 and 23 of the Media Decree, to my mind.

Your brief email of 18 March dismissing my complaint contains no information by which the merits of my complaint can be assessed. Did members of your board find the facts as I stated them to be incorrect? You told me in November that MIDA board members had “decided to obtain from CFL broadcast tapes and all other relevant information so that the board can make full and fair assessment of your complaint.” Were these in fact obtained? If so, what was contained in them that resulted in the dismissal of my complaint? If they were not obtained, what was the reason? Did Mr Deo and/or Mr Narayan provide any response to my complaint either defending their actions or disputing the applicability of the Media Decree to them? If they did, why was I not provided with that information so I could assess it and, if necessary, dispute it? I would be very surprised if MIDA dismissed my complaint without any need to obtain the other side of the story. I am appalled that I was not made privy to that information and allowed to respond to it.

To state that my complaint was “misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous” is thus literally unjustified by you. I respectfully request any reasons you are able to provide for this ruling and the terms in which it was expressed. My understanding of the Media Decree is that it is intended to raise the standards of journalism in Fiji, which in my experience are badly in need of it. If journalists are allowed to engage in the type of behaviour to which I was subjected by Mr Deo and Mr Narayan, the result will be quite the opposite. Without some clarification of the above issues, the result will inevitably be increased confusion. Please note that, in the interests of transparency, I have posted this on my blog for the information of the public, as I did with my original complaint.

Yours Sincerely,

Marc Edge, PhD
Vancouver, Canada


Dear Marc
As we do not have your postal address I have to communicate to you through email. First, I would like to apologize for the delay in considering your complaint against Communications Fiji Ltd, its reporter Dhanjay Deo and News Director Vijay Narayan. In your letter to MIDA dated 25th September 2012, you mentioned 'subterfuge' and obtaining of information through means that were unethical in your view. You had asked for penalties to be imposed. After inquiry into the matter, MIDA found your complaint misconceived and lacking in true substance, indeed bordering on the frivolous. In the context of Media Code 61, we have no option but to dismiss your complaint.

Should you wish to pursue the matter, Media Code 62 allows for hearing by a Tribunal.
I'm sorry we are not able to take this matter further.
Yours Sincerely

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