Sunday, February 28, 2010

Media Muzzling in Fiji Today - A Visit from Mr Bland

By Disillusioned Cub Reporter
28 February 2010

By 5pm the days news work is ready to be assessed. Those of us new to the game have written our hearts out about the social and moral dilemmas facing us today in Fiji. Three years at USP gave us enthusiasm and drive. The older hands have rewritten the press releases of various Government Departments, added the odd bit for Mr Bland to play with and sat on their hands for the afternoon.

Mr Bland is the nickname for the censors. Their job is to bland out reports so that their boss, who has a heart condition, doesn’t keel over if he ever reads some bad news.

The caliber of the censorship is humorous. A story of a house burning down, because there was no water in the nearby hydrant for the firefighters, was killed as negative but we could report the house burnt down. This was not apparently negative although I believe the owners thought otherwise.

We printed a similar story last month without a problem.

Mr Bland, depending on his/her temperament either kills the news outright or plays with a magic marker crossing out all contentious comments. He blands the article until it is so insipid that the editor often pulls it as being of no value. I often work for a week without getting a tick in my success box.

A body found in the Rewa River was not allowed to be reported as a murder even though the police officer on the scene said it was and cane knife cuts could be seen. The censor was unable to confirm with police headquarters that it was a murder so it wasn’t. We even had the name and title of the police officer but this was not good enough. It was merely reported as a drowning. His family was distraught as they knew better. We were unable to find any information of an ongoing police investigation. If a reporter calls the police they are redirected to the Police News Unit and they are professionals at the big No Comment.

A home invasion in Nasouri is finally reported as a break in. We have yet to find out why a break in is less offensive than a home invasion. The fact that cane knives were waved around and women and children were involved was magic marked. The fact that the police arrived two hours after they were called also magically disappeared. Another big No Comment when a followup is sought.

Don’t get me started on court reporting. The reporter lowest on the food chain gets the joys of the court. It is a no-win posting. If you report the truth you face both the censors and the Judiciary. I have been warned twice about contempt of court both time for articles submitted to Mr Band that were never published.

We are all professionals. Professional what? This is the question often asked at the ever longer coffee breaks. It is demoralizing to work all day for Mr Bland to shake his head.

It is even more demoralizing to have your name attributed to a piece of news that you know is untrue.

The newsroom has degenerated into gallows humor with articles written to provoke Mr Blands’ Magic Marker. Bets are taken on the number of words left. The news is no longer sacrosanct.

My recommendation is to join the news crew in treating our output for what it is……Crap.

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