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VIDEO: Fiji Media Authority bans journalist training by foreign entities

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Item: 8429

Ana Sovaraki
SUVA (Fiji Sun / Pacific Media Watch): The Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) in Fiji will not allow any foreign media entities to hold local training sessions without first consulting them.

Local journalists affiliated with any overseas or freelance media outlets would also have to register, the Fiji Sun reported.

Addressing journalists this week, the authority’s new chairman Ashwin Raj said he would find it problematic that foreign entities engaged with local media in workshops without seeking the approval of the authority.

Raj’s comments were also consistent with requirements under the Media Industry Development Decree introduced in 2010.

Part six of the Media Decree states that every media organisation that provides or intends to provide media services in Fiji must be registered.

“In this requirement I don’t think international media agencies can conduct any important workshops regarding important matters such as media freedom, democracy, human rights, elections etc. without seeking prior approval,” Raj said.

‘Protocol’ and ‘diligence’
He said an entity could not just walk into a country and conduct workshops without consulting MIDA.

“It is about protocol, and it is about diligence.” He said the function of the authority was not policing the content of the workshop or training by a foreign entity, but making sure it was in line with the media decree.

Although Fiji recently adopted a new constitution, Raj said the media decree would still play an important role in Fiji.

“The decree is a very legally nuanced document pertaining to the governance of [the] media industry, and in that sense it is important,” he said, according to the Fiji Times.

Raj also told reporters that the role of MIDA was to create cohesiveness between the authority and media organisations.

The MIDA chairman said this was an important time for the media and journalists to reflect on their roles in the context of the media decree.

New MIDA director attacks NZ, Australia for 'dictating' to Fiji media

Watch the interview with Ashwin Raj – transcript below:

Ashwin Raj (AR), new chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority: To them things are on political campaigns, elections, [and] the coverage of aspiring politicians. I think that it just gives you a sense of the mood with the media, and the fact that people take this seriously. For instance, if you’re on a talk-back show on television and somebody’s asking a question and the journalist is barely able to conceal his or her amusement when somebody’s asking a question, and there’s a sense of insinuation that ‘Oh my God, how can he ask that kind of dumb question?’. There are several things around taste [and] decency in the decree that then begin to materialise in our lives. Laws seem very abstract, but when these kinds of transgressions begin to take place, you actually realise that there’s a reason why it’s in place. It spans from the banal to the real political taxing [in terms of] complaints.

Interviewer: How much of it would you say are justified under the decree or is it just the required clarification?

AR: We have to act on things and we have to think through the severity of a situation [that] is impinged. For instance, the voter register [story], I asked for a correction and an apology, it appeared as a correction in the newspaper almost as if it was a typographical error. I had to write to people and say ‘Hey, this is not simply a typo, don’t trivialise that’, because it has got national significance. People have the right to know, and [the story] had already distorted some of the perception of the people, and questioned the integrity of some of the systems. Do a full story! In a sense you have to think through what are the implications of this complaint. What does it actually mean? In terms of public affairs, is it simply a question that is going to serve some self-aggrandising individual, or does it have a larger policy implication we have to think through? Even we have to apply situational ethics. Laws are one thing, human subjectivity is another – so whose decency, whose stakes, whose political proclivities do we offend? These become highly subjective questions, and that’s why it has to be aboard a number of able-minded people, so [they] can sit down and have a robust discussion before we make a statement.

Interviewer: If you were to assess these complaints, what percentage would you say are justified?

AR: I’ve been in office for almost two months, and there’s been like four complaints. I’m also looking at the backlog of complaints that was supposed to be dealt with by my predecessor. I’m going to deal with that, and a couple of things have been dealt with. I’m trying to work very swiftly. For instance [if] a complaint comes in, I’m required that the board almost immediately acknowledge [that it has] received [the] complaint, inform them of the protocols and procedures in MIDA in terms of what we’re going to [do]. You need to know that if a complaint has been lodged it’s not sitting there, and then very quickly following up if you got 14 days right of reply….There’ll be extremely hard to give you the percentages, because I’m not a discerning math guy, but I can say that each one of them warrants their own degrees of intervention. It’s not for the authority to trivialise these things. Surely something has [led] the individual to approach the authority and say ‘hey, I’m not cool with this’. When somebody doesn’t like that, you have to enter their protocols and need to engage with that. It’s not for us to trivialise to say ‘this one is serious and this one isn’t’.

Interviewer: How will MIDA facilitate complaints from media organisations against [inaudible]?

AR: It’s happened. This is the stuff I’m talking about [regarding] cohesiveness. Sometimes one of those things that happens is there are serious complaints that come to MIDA from factions within the media industry. That’s when I have to say ‘hey, grow up!’. You can’t use the authority.

Interviewer: Who against who?

AR: Maybe one entity within the industry to another.

Interviewer: Competitors?

AR: Competitors. You can see that it’s really sort of…sometimes it’s the economics of the arrangement, other times it’s just plain sort of try and monopolise the public sphere. A number of things happen. For us then we have to sit and think ‘What’s going on here?’. Is there a larger policy issue? Are they bickering and trying to run to the authority to slate the other part. These things happen. One of the things that I think we want to do, when I said think through the ethics of the profession, growing up and taking responsibility is one of those things….sometimes it does happen. People run over some of the things that you think…you know, why don’t you just sit down and talk before you lodge an official complaint. You begin and see that colleagues are not talking to each other. There is a lot of rancor. There’s a lot of ill-will. I’m saying create the kind of dialogue…sit down, talk about things. If you feel you cannot come to some amicable solution, by all means, come to the authority. But basically, trying to use the authority as an instrument to prosecute somebody else that becomes a problematic thing for us, and I think we’ve taken a hard line around that.

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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