Two articles of interest written by Marc Edge, a journalism educator and media critic from Vancouver, Canada. The second article explains press freedom as contained in the draft constitution that was delivered by Yash Ghai and his team.
Fiji Media Wars
I have been hounded out of Fiji
Did I jump, or was I pushed?
Let's just say it was a little bit of both. I was certainly pushed. To the Edge, you might say. In the end, I decided it would be better to make an orderly exit from Fiji than to be bundled off kicking and screaming under a deportation order. Unfortunately, this blog made things a little bit too hot for me with the country's military dictatorship. It complained endlessly about entries that questioned media-related decrees, such as the TV Decree, and more recently about my efforts to shine some light on the regime's propaganda machine. It even complained about a joke I told about regime propagandist Qorvis Communications and then about a funny email that I forwarded. The email was the latest installment in the satirical "Shazzer and Grubby" series of fictitous love letters between chief propagandist Smith-Johns and blowhard blogger Graham Davis. As this one involved me, I thought certain people would like to read it. I particularly enjoyed this passage.
“Shazzer, my flaming Goddess.” You addressed me in your whiney little boy voice. “Professor Edge has been mean to me. He has been saying nasty things about me and writing them on his blog. He has been weally, weally mean and I can’t shut him up and he just ignores my award winning attacks on him. I don’t think he knows I won a Walkley and a Logie otherwise he would treat me with more respect. Perhaps no one has heard of them outside of Tasmania.” You got down on your knees before me and continued. “Pwease my bwutiful goddess will you get him sacked and deported. Send him back to Canada.”
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Press freedom guaranteed, but only if. . . .
Press freedom is guaranteed in the proposed Bill of Rights contained in the draft constitution that was delivered by Yash Ghai and his team last week. For press freedom to become a reality in Fiji, however, the document lists provisions of the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree and other laws made by the interim government that must be repealed. The draft constitution’s freedom of expression guarantees are almost identical to those contained in the 1997 constitution, with a couple of additions, including academic freedom (wouldn't that be nice?) and "freedom of imagination." Here’s the new section.
Section 27 Freedom of expression, publication and media
(1) Everyone has freedom of expression and publication, which includes––
(a) freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas;
(b) freedom of the press, including print, electronic and other media;
(c) freedom of imagination and creativity; and
(d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
The subsequent limiting section, which sets out allowable restrictions on freedom of expression, is considerably different from that contained in the 1997 constitution, however. It removes reference to limitations to protect “national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or the orderly conduct of national or municipal elections.” In their place it adds an allowable limitation against incitement to insurrection and, curiously, one against “propaganda for war.” It also deletes allowable limitations for “the protection or maintenance of the reputation, privacy, dignity, rights or freedoms of other persons” in terms of
(2) Freedom of expression and publication does not protect–
(a) propaganda for war;
(b) incitement to violence or insurrection against this Constitution; or
(c) advocacy of hatred that––
(i) is based on any prohibited ground of discrimination listed or
(ii) constitutes incitement to cause harm.
(d) preventing attacks on the dignity of individuals, groups or communities or respected offices or institutions in a manner likely to promote ill will between races or communities or the oppression of, or discrimination against, any person or persons.
Licensing of media is allowed in the draft constitution only for the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. Other media, it explicitly states, "must not be subject to licensing." Procedures for regulating the airwaves, it adds, "must be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests." Section 57 Regulation of public media begins by stating: "Free and open discussion and dissemination of ideas is essential in a democratic society." State-owned media, it goes on to state, "are free to determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications independent of political or government control." State-owned media must be impartial, it adds, and must allow divergent views and dissenting opinions. In an apparent swipe at the Media Decree's unilateral regulation of media content, the draft constitution explicity reserves that power for elected legislators, stating: "An Act of Parliament must establish a body to set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards." Such a body must be independent of government control and political or commercial interests, according to the draft constitution, and must "reflect the interests of all sections of the society." Candidates and political parties contesting an election, states Section 60 Campaigning, may not be denied reasonable access to state-owned media.
In a separate Explanatory Report, the constitution commission states that laws that are inconsistent with its proposed Bill of Rights would have to be repealed or amended, including the Media Decree, the Television Decree, and the State Proceedings Amendment Decree. Included in the sections of the Media Decree to be repealed is the controversial Section 8, which vaguely prohibits publication of anything "against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord." As Shailendra Singhpointed out, "what is for or against the public interest can be a highly debatable issue."
The government can have one view, the opposition another and the media an entirely different one. Some believe plurality of views is healthy for Fiji. Others believe Fiji needs a benevolent dictatorship. But the question remains: Will a newspaper be guilty of a crime if it were to carry a strident editorial opposed to the government’s stand on an issue concerning the national interest?
Also to be dropped from the Media Decree under the draft constitution would be the Media Code of Ethics and Practice, under which journalists are now subject to sanction for what were once ethical guidelines. So is the provision that decisions under the decree may not be appealed to the courts, which the constitution commission has taken a dim view of generally. "The aim is that everyone will have physical access to a court, and to an appeal to a higher level of court," it states in the Explanatory Report. Also to be repealed is the provision of the 2012 Television Decree that prevents stations from going to court to appeal the lifting of their licence by the government. So is the section of the 2012 State Proceedings Amendment Decree which grants government ministers and media outlets immunity from defamation lawsuits for making or publishing defamatory statements.