Will Fiji’s June Media Decree Catch Up with its Reputation?

Global Integrity

Early this year, I spoke with journalist Shailendra Singh, on the effects that the 2006 coup d’etat in Fiji had on media freedoms there. In our online exchange, Singh highlighted the perseverance of his colleagues– many Fijian journalists publish anonymously through online outlets and regional blogs to escape the overt government pressure on publishing. Fiji has a legacy of strong, critical journalism and Singh’s well-chosen words suggested that his sector would reemerge to embody its former identity. However, a law passed last month may serve as an ominous sign that Singh and his colleagues will have to wait longer than anticipated.

In June, new media regulations were enacted in Fiji amidst an outcry from regional and international media freedom watchdog groups. Pacific Beat, Radio Australia’s Pacific region program, reports that along with creating a new Media Regulation Authority to oversee the sector, the new decree also grants this group with the power to demand that journalists reveal their sources for reports pertaining to corruption or abuse of power. Another major change introduced is the restriction on ownership of media outlets, which must now be 90% owned by permanent residents and citizens of Fiji. Following this, the Fiji Times, one of the nation’s oldest and, before 2007, arguably its most critical newspaper, will be closed. The paper is under the complete ownership of Richard Murdoch’s company, News Limited. The fate of another local newspaper, Fiji Daily,is also is question.

Despite the bad news for foreign investors, the decree may bring a bit of relief to reporters inside Fiji. According to Pacific Beat, the new regulations do free some personal burdens on individual journalists. For example, the fines for slander have been cut in half— $50,0000 Fijian dollars rather than $100,000 – and maximum jail time has been decreased from 5 years to 2 years.

Amnesty International has spoken out against the changes as they still allow for government to imprison critical journalists, and Russell Hunter, former managing editor at the Fiji Times, labels any positive reforms as “cosmetic.” Pacific blogs had been a buzz in the weeks surrounding the signing of the decree, fearful that the law further consolidates government power over the media while also limiting the role of international actors.

But one journalism professor thinks the international community has too quickly jumped to assumptions. Professor Croz Walsh critiqued the analysis presented by The International Federation of Journalists. The IFJ denounced the decree as a “coercive and ultimately destructive law.” Walsh agrees that the decree has the potential to be misused, but he cautions international observers, stating: “there are concerns about how the Decree will be used (and I shall write about these as time goes on) but it is not the draconian document its critics would have their readers believe.”

While trying to avoid Prof. Walsh’s label as “another well intended but uninformed and unbalanced denunciation from offshore expert,” the powers extended to Fiji’s Media Regulation Authority are a cause for concern. Any law that allows for journalists to be forced to reveal confidential sources threatens the independence of reporting. But, yes, whether or not this government media council uses this right has yet to be proven. In the month since the decree was enacted, we at Global Integrity have not noticed any drastic shifts in reporting in Fiji. However, we invite the opinions from journalists inside Fiji or from outside media experts.

— Norah Mallaney

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

5 comments on “Will Fiji’s June Media Decree Catch Up with its Reputation?

  • Whether an individual journalist is $500 or $5 does not matter.

    What matters is that editors can be fined $25k and jailed for 2 years.

    Editors as gatekeepers decide what is published.

    The fine and prison term are enough to cower most editor into self-censorship.

    The $100k fine for media organizations is a further safeguard.

    It will ensure that publishers keep errant reporters/editors in check and cooperate with govt.

  • Thank you for the clarifications. After reading through the decree a bit closer, I did notice the exception made for disclosure of sources for reporting of corruption cases.

    From my detailed re-read, it also seems that individual editors can only be fined up to $25,000 and imprisoned for 2 years, while the individual journalists face fines of $1,000 and the same prison times for offenses that break the laws set forth in the decree. Meanwhile, their corresponding media organization can be fined $100,000 for the incident.

    The Media Industry Development Decree is available for public access on the Fiji Government's documents portal: http://www.fiji.gov.fj/index.php?option=com_docman&task;=cat_view&Itemid;=158&gid;=59&orderby;=dmdate_published

  • Fiji Times has been found liable for false reporting. On the ownership of Fiji Times question, which seems to be glossed over by main stream media agencies and the wire news/internet products. US Law also requires media owners to be US citizens; a la Rupert Murdoch's case.

    Further to the question of "investigative reporting" and its seemingly demise and the cognitive disonance; is summarized in the "Dark Alliance" (featuring CIA involvement in the domestic/international drug trade)series published by Mercury News, San Jose and the journalist, Gary Webb was hung out to dry by the Editor, Publisher of the Newspaper he was employed by.

    Gary Webb was allegedly committed suicide, with two bullet wounds to the head. Prior to his death, he had filed police reports regarding stalking and intruders to his home.

  • Couple of flaws in your blog:
    1. Corruption and abuse of office cases are instances were a journalist cannot be asked to reveal sources. You can published the opposite.

    2. The maximum fine an individual journalist can get it $500, not $50,000.

    But it is still a law which will push journalists towards self-censorship – where this can be read as accountability, fine and good; where it is favoured for self-preservation over public good, it is a huge burden on free speech.


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