Media Freedom Day marked in Fiji
Members of the Fiji media discuss issues facing the industry.
Members of the Fiji media have marked Media Freedom Day in a discussion on censorship, reporting bias, government decrees limiting the media and other issues.
The event was organised by the University of the South Pacific after it cancelled Media Watch's planned debate on topics relating to the media and elections, for fear of breaching the Electoral Decree.
Mary Baines reports.
A panelist and the Republika Magazine editor, Ricardo Morris, says the Media Decree and the Electoral Decree govern what the media can do, and there's no way around that. But he says knowing the decrees inside out will help journalists know what the boundaries are, and how to push them.
RICARDO MORRIS: The best cause of action for journalists who want to be able to contribute meaningfully during this period - keep ourselves informed about what the government is doing, about what is happening in government circles and be able to look beyond the rhetoric of what we're told every day.
The Media Industry Development Authority chairman, Ashwin Raj, says if members of the media don't like the decrees, they have a constitutional right to take a stand.
ASHWIN RAJ: If people have issues with the Media Decree, fight it against the constitution. Exercise reason. Use it catachrestically. The constitution at all times remains the backbone document. If you think certain provisions remain in contradiction or empty out the meaning of the constitution, go back to the Bill of Rights.
Mr Raj says he is urging journalists reporting on Fiji to think critically and in a fair, balanced and ethical way.
ASHWIN RAJ: To be able to analyse, engage, rather than being the mouthpiece, the proverbial monkey that was regurgitating a ton of things. What are the implications of merely reciting, reading critically, engaging, asking the critical questions?
A Fiji author, journalist and columnist, Seonna Smiles, says some issues are not being properly reported but with more training, journalists will become more persistent in probing. She says one of the big issues not being reported is the finances of Fiji, which is particularly worrying.
SEONNA SMILES: There are many things that aren't being published and aren't being said and aren't being investigated. It's a product of the kind of newsrooms and the kind of media outlets that we have now. Which are a product of the political situation.
Fiji has had a military-backed government since the 2006 coup. Government accounts are not audited and the regime is adamant to keep its taxpayer funded salaries secret. A Fiji Sun journalist on the panel, Rachna Lal, says the newspaper supports the policies of regime leader Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama. The managing editor of business denies claims The Fiji Sun is a 'government newspaper' but says Rear Admiral Bainimarama's policies have been positive. Ms Lal says he has done a lot of work developing rural areas, which had been neglected by previous governments.
RACHNA LAL: What we are as a newspaper, and we make no apologies for this, is broadly supportive of the Bainimarama government's policies. We believe these policies are building a better Fiji. We know these policies have strong, broad, public support.
About two weeks ago, the chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority, Ashwin Raj, rejected claims the Fiji Sun is biased and in favour of the regime.
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