Stakeholders rebuke Rabuka for sidestepping media reforms



Fiji Media Stakeholders at the Public Consultation Meeting on March 23, 2023 (FMA Photo via RNZ)

Source: RNZ (Kelvin Anthony) Fiji, March 27, 2023
Edited at Indian Newslink

The Fijian government has said that it will not tear down the country’s controversial media but local newsrooms and journalism commentators have objected, saying that their freedom and development have been stunted for more than a decade.

During their election campaign in 2022, all opposition parties had said that if elected to form the next government, they will get rid of the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) 2010 enforced by the government of Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.

The change in government after 16 years brought a renewed sense of hope for journalists and media outlets.

But after almost 100 days, it appears that Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s coalition is backtracking on its promise to repeal the punitive law, a move that has been condemned by the stakeholders in the media industry.

Review of MIDA 2010

Mr Rabuka said that his government is committed to allowing people the freedom of the press which will be included in the review of MIDA.

“I believe that we cannot have a proper democracy without a free press which has been described as the oxygen of democracy,” he said and denied that his government was backtracking on an election promise. “Reviewing could mean eventually repealing it. We have to understand how MIDA is faring in this modern day of media freedom. Other governments advance their association with the media,” he told RNZ Pacific.

University of South Pacific Head of Journalism
Associate Professor Shailendra Singh (Twitter Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Rabuka said that he intended to change the law which, according to him means “review and make amendments.”

“The coalition has given an assurance that we will end that era of media oppression. We are discussing new legislation that reflects more democratic values,” he said.

Such a discussion took place for the first time last week with the introduction of the Media Ownership and Registration Bill 2023.

The Bill is expected to address undemocratic issues, threaten freedom of expression, and hinder the growth and development of a strong and independent news media in Fiji.

It will amend the MIDA Act by removing the punitive clauses on content regulation that threatens journalists with heavy fines and jail terms.

“The Bill is not intended as a complete reform of Fiji’s media law landscape,” a government notification said.

But according to the University of South Pacific Head of Journalism Associate Professor Shailendra Singh, the six-page regulation is not what the media industry needs.

“We have argued that there is no need for legislation. The existing laws are sufficient but if there has to be legislation there should be minimal or no government involvement at all,” he said.

Media Association objects

The Fijian Media Association (FMA), which represents 150 working journalists in Fiji, has also expressed strong opposition to the Bill and is calling for the MIDA to be repealed.

The Association’s Director Vijay Narayan (who is the News Director of Communications Fiji Limited) said that if there is a need for another legislation, then the government can convene fresh consultation with stakeholders if these issues are not adequately addressed.

“We want a total repeal of the Media Act. We believe that it was brought about without consultation at all. We have worked with it for 16 years. We have been staring at the pointy end of the spear and we continue to work hard to build our industry despite the challenges that we have faced,” he said.

He said that the media industry in Fiji needs investment to improve standards and that the FMA acknowledged that the issue of content regulation was addressed in the new law.

“But with the restrictions in investment that also stunts our growth as media workers. The fact that it will be controlled by politicians is dreadful,” he said.

The FMA has also raised concerns about the provisions about cross-media ownership and foreign ownership as key issues that impact media development and create an unequal playing field.

Sections 38 and 39 of the Media Act impose restrictions on foreign ownership of local media organisations and cross-media ownership.

According to a recent analysis of the Act co-authored by Dr Singh, they are a major impediment to media development and need to be re-examined.

“It would be prudent to review the media ownership situation and reforms periodically, say every four or five years, to gauge the impact, and address any issues, that may have arisen,” the report has recommended.

But Suva lawyer and Coalition Party Advisor Richard Naidu said that all issues relating to the news media should be in the public domain.

“The legislation has preserved the status quo and the rules of cross-ownership and foreign media ownership were left as they were in the Media Act. Is that right? That is a question of opinion because before MIDA was enforced, there were no rules on cross-media ownership and foreign media ownership,” he said.

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