Fiji's Singapore-style media model "worrying" | Pacific Beat

Fiji's Singapore-style media model "worrying"

Fiji's Singapore-style media model "worrying"

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:30 AEDT

Fiji's coup leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has described consultations on the proposed new media decree as constructive.

The media decree will bring an end to more than 12 months of censorship by emergency law. But a draft shows censorship will still exist, just under another name, and that penalities for breaching new media laws could land reporters in jail for up to five years. The interim government says the new model is similar to one that already exists in Singapore. Professor Gary Rodan from the Asia Research centre at Australia's Murdoch University, says media professionals in Singapore work in difficult circumstances.

Presenter: Sam Seke

Speaker: Professor Gary Rodan, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Australia

RODAN: In Singapore, the curbs on non-national ownership of media really were brought out . . .instituted rather, in the 1970s and the net affect of that was not just to mean that domestic media were owned and controlled by Singaporeans, but more particularly, it panned out that the strategic control of domestic media has been in the hands of government-linked companies and that is applied not just to the printed press, which is where that battle took place during the 1970s in the first instance, but to electronic media, broadcasting media of all types, so that the domestic media is controlled now strategically by government-linked companies.

HILL: So do you think there is a danger with these sort of laws that this was the sort of thing that could happen, the media become more closely aligned to the government?

RODAN: Well, the potential is obviously there.

HILL: So what is the media in Singapore look like as regards questions of press freedom and holding the government accountable?

RODAN: Well, there is not much holding of the government to account. The domestic media and particularly the daily English language newspaper, The Strait Times, the editor and the editors over time have been quite clear that they see themselves as part of a nation-building exercise, which means that they don't claim that they have completely unrestrained free press or any obligation to provide that, rather that they see themselves working in concert with the Singapore Government and they refer to this as responsible media. If there is any accountability, I think it would not be unreasonable to say that to some extent the media is accountable to the government for what it does and its senior editors don't have a real problem with that, and the appointment of editors and senior people in these media organisations is considered a very sensitive political and strategic exercise and is approached accordingly by the Singapore Government.

HILL: So having seen this process take place in Singapore, now that you have heard the Fiji interim attorney-general hold Singapore up as an example, what's your reaction to that?

RODAN: I would be concerned if I was a Fijian who wanted to see a robust and free domestic media. One also has to keep in mind that the other dimension to the media and the way the media operates in Singapore is how the international media has conducted itself. They have not been able to escape quite tight controls in Singapore, so foreign correspondents and reporters who may be writing for organisations that are not based in Singapore have been affected by these controls as well. So it may not, if the intent in Fiji is to follow the Singapore model, there may be complimentary legislation down the track that would be intended to tighten up on the way in which foreign reporters might be reporting news or interpreting news and it might not just be an agenda that is directed at local ownership.

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