Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Mixed Reactions to Fiji Media Decree

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Ministry officials at the consultationTaken from / By: Fiji Broadcasting Corporation
The draft of one of the most significant set of laws to govern media operations in Fiji was released and discussed today, receiving mixed reactions from media organizations and civil society groups. 

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum introduced the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 which sets out the establishment of a Media Industry Development Authority, A Media Tribunal, a Media Code of Ethics, penalties and fines for breach of the decree, and laws governing cross-media ownership and foreign media ownership in Fiji. 

Sayed-Khaiyum says the decree will be introduced “as soon as possible” and that the Public Emergency Regulations will be lifted once it is in place. 

He also confirmed that the media will be able to report comments from Unionists and Politicians who have been banned from speaking out since the enforcement of the PER, as long as the reports are accurate and balanced. 

FBC News Director Stanley Simpson was at the Consultations today and filed this report: 

“Among the major sticking points during today’s discussions was the make up and independence of the Media Development Authority, the imposition of fines for breaching certain provisions under the decree, and the ability of the media to appeal or seek redress from the Courts if the Media Tribunal ruled and imposed fines against them.

Limits on foreign ownership of media organizations in Fiji also featured, with the proposed decree set to take out Australia’s News Ltd’s ownership of the Fiji Times. 

Media organizations and civil society groups opposed the proposal in the decree that the Media Development Authority be led by a Director appointed by the Minister, pushing instead that it be governed by a board with representatives from across the community. 

The media were also unanimous that the fines currently being proposed in the media decree were too draconian and could easily take most media organizations in Fiji out of business. Breaches of the proposed decree could incur fines of as much $100,000 or a maximum of $500,000 for certain offences. Media organizations requested that this be significantly reduced. 

There was also agreement that the fines should be directed at the media organizations and not at individual journalists. The Media Tribunal which would hear and determine complaints made against media organizations also generated much discussion, particularly the fines it could impose and the lack of ability in the current draft for the media to appeal or seek redress against the Tribunal’s decisions. 

Media organizations asked that they be given an avenue through the courts to appeal the Tribunal decisions should they choose to. 

The Media Code of Ethics in the Decree was lifted word for word from the current code of ethics put in place by the Fiji Media Council but discussions ranged on how this could be legislated given differences in society on what is considered in good taste or decent. 

The Fiji Times asked the government if they could provide written submissions and proposed changes to the foreign ownership section, a request which was denied outright in the morning. The new law states that foreigners can only own 10 per cent of a local media organization. 

At the end of the session, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said they would take the suggestions and feedback on board, but launched an attack on the Fiji Times for not acting in Fiji’s interests. 

Consultations will be held in Lautoka tomorrow but the Consultation in Labasa has been cancelled."

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