Fiji Media Watch criticises new media decree | Pacific Beat

Fiji Media Watch criticises new media decree

Fiji Media Watch criticises new media decree

Updated 13 February 2012, 18:31 AEDT

Fiji's President has approved a new decree that grants media organisations legal immunity for reporting any comments by the Prime Minister or Cabinet Ministers.

Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has told the Fiji Sun the decree can be likened to parliamentary privilege and will promote transparent discussion.

The decree allows media organisations to air comments by government ministers about individuals without fear of being sued for defamation.

But the executive director of Fiji Media Watch, says the decree could undermine the independence of the media.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy

Speaker: Agatha Ferei, the executive director of Fiji Media Watch

FEREI: As far as Fiji Media Watch is concerned, we do not support this amendment decree. The decree has as part of its amendment, it grants immunity to the press to publish any information that's sent to them by the Prime Minister or any of the ministers and Fiji Media Watch feels that this challenges the independence of the media in general. As the Fourth Estate we feel that it is responsible to the members of the public and with such immunity it limits, it challenges their independence at the same time with the content that you're given, it limits the freedom of expression of citizens in Fiji who wish to share an opposing view to anything that is published.

McCARTHY: So do you have the concern that this decree could essentially give the government license to make defamatory comments about individuals and ensure that they are on the public record and they are reported in the media?

FEREI: Well, that is our concern as far as Fiji Media Watch deals with members of the public. We feel that media houses must always ensure that whatever news information they put through, that it's balanced and that it's also fair and just for members of the public.

McCARTHY: Do you have any concerns about how this decree might conflict with the media code of ethics?

FEREI: Yes, our current code of ethics, that is why we are saying that we do not support this, because it does counter the current media code of ethics that we're calling on all media houses to continue to abide by and this is with reference to news information that they must ensure that it's always accurate, balance and just all the different principles that that particular code of ethics addresses.

McCARTHY: How do other media organisations feel about this decree? Is there generally opposition to it?

FEREI: We have read and some have stated their own concerns regarding that and again I know of a particular media house in one of the reporters has indicated that they will continue to follow the media code of ethics as in the media decree.

McCARTHY: Do you see this as another sign of the interim government trying to control public debate in the lead up to the 2014 elections?

FEREI: Well, this is another way of the government trying to move on with their own processes and they're trying to put out decrees and the last one that they gave out before the state proceedings we were happy to note the lifting of the censorship then also with censors and media houses and then this one we feel that that is something we cannot support, because we will always look at the members of the public and their opportunity given to them to raise their own concerns or even comments and worse off if they're not given an opportunity to oppose anything, this is something that Fiji Media Watch will not be able to support and so some of the decrees that the government is bringing out is helping in the process and the build up towards democracy. There are some that we feel they probably need to re-look at.

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