Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fiji's Christmas message - 'it's war'

"IT'S WAR", declared the Fiji Times in its melodramatic Christmas Eve response to the tit-for-tat mutual diplomat expulsions with New Zealand. The new blow to relations between the two countries was an irony given that barely 24 hours earlier the media was welcoming an apparent warming up and the threat against acting NZ High Commissioner Caroline McDonald seemed to have dropped onto the back burner. But fed up with Australia and New Zealand's alleged "bully boy" tactics, the regime gave McDonald her marching orders yesterday and NZ retaliated a couple of hours later by expelling her Fiji counterpart in Wellington, Ponsami Chetty. Both were given a week to leave. Writes Mary Rauto:

Like the case with Michael Green [expelled last year], the interim government gave no reason for the expulsion, especially when the decision came a day after interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum called for reconciliation and better dialogue with Fiji's neighbours — Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum denied that the expulsion had anything to do with the travel ban imposed on members of the interim government, the military and their family members.
In the last few weeks, the interim government has attacked New Zealand for refusing to allow three people –– the children of military officers and interim government appointees –– to enter the country on sports and study leave.
One of the victims was George Nacewa, son of Rupeni Nacewa, the secretary to the President.

The expulsion order on McDonald followed further accusations by the regime of Australian and NZ diplomats meddling in Fiji politics and spying. One of the interesting stories in the lead-up to the twin expulsions, was Vernon Small's account of NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully's staged leak with selected journos. "McCulliavelli's" ploy backfired when TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver was detained last week and sent packing back to New Zealand. Pictured: Fiji Times image taken outside McDonald's home in Suva.

Meanwhile, back to the festive season. Café Pacific wishes readers and followers a Hepi Krismas and fruitful 2009! Check out Pacific Media Centre during the break.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finally a review for the Fiji Media Council - but will it do the job?

HARD on the heels of the Fiji regime's latest PR debacle this week by kicking out one of the finest Pacific journos - TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver (pictured) - a review of the Media Council is finally officially on the table. This is something that has been drastically needed for some time to restore some balance into the Fiji media landscape - and to help blunt the regime's continued assault on media freedom. The $10,000 Ausaid-funded exercise will have a reasonable three-member team on the job. Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman, lawyer and former Fiji Electoral and Boundaries Commissioner Barrie Sweetman and the chairperson of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, Suliana Siwatibau, will begin the four-day review on January 19. But will four days and a limited terms of reference allow them do justice to the task? Hardly. Café Pacific has previously pointed to the 2007 New Zealand Press Council review (first in 30 years) as a good benchmark for such a controversial mission. (A research paper comparing the Fiji and New Zealand self-regulatory media climates is being published in the next edition of Fijian Studies.)

Undoubtedly, this Fiji panel will come up with a far more robust report and recommendations than the discredited Jim Anthony report. But its limited brief is unlikely to satisfy those civil society groups and commentators who are highly critical of the Fiji media, nor is it likely to quell the regime's frustration with what it sees as a one-sided news media industry.

The muted terms for reference for the Fiji media review include looking into:

  • how the Fiji Media Council has carried out its responsibilities as provided for under the constitution
  • the complaints process
  • the relationship with the government
  • its responsibilities to the public
  • the administration of the council and the role and remuneration of the chairman and secretary
  • the funding of the council

Probably the most insightful commentary about what ought to be done with the Fiji Media Council was presented last month by Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster at the University of the South Pacific journalism awards.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why UN bodies are failing over human rights

THE world marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week. Media freedom group Reporters San Frontières issued its own report on December 10, giving a poor mark to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the main UN body concerned with the issues. Says the RSF:

The UN Human Rights Council is doing little better than its predecessor, the now-abolished Commission on Human Rights, which was completely discredited over
the years, especially when it named a Libyan as its president. The council has the failings of all UN bodies, where member-states are both judges and judged.
States with repressive governments are elected to the council and thus tasked with ensuring respect in other countries for rights they themselves are abusing on a daily basis. Until this absurd situation is ended, the United Nations cannot be said to be fulfilling its goal of protecting human rights.
The use of human rights by countries for their own purposes will not end until the UN Security Council and the whole system of world governance is reformed and enlarged. This issue has been highlighted by the present economic and environmental crisis.
If the UN does not manage to end it, the council will
fail in its mission.

Check out the full RSF report.
Human rights in post-coup Fiji - Why might is not right
Pacific media human rights issues
The Witness take on human rights

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making the Fiji media more transparent

IS FIJI well served by its Media Council? Not proactive enough, say some. Not visible enough, say others. Has the complaints process been rigorous enough? Is it really doing its job on behalf of media freedom? Is the relationship with the industry too cosy in the public mind? For self-regulation to work fairly and in a balanced way, it has to be seen to be genuinely working in the interests of all stakeholders in the Fourth Estate - and that includes the grassroots public, not just the owners, publishers and broadcasters. One of the more reflective Fiji journalists to emerge in the country's moment of need is Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster who gave a thought-provoking speech at the annual awards of the University of the South Pacific's regional journalism programme. While presenting a measured overview of how hell-bent the regime is on pushing through the misguided media law promulgation - and it is all about drafting a law before consultation - Foster said it was about time the self-regulatory Media Council was reviewed:

We suggest a far better approach, and one that will not end up costing the government anything, is to review the Media Council itself, including ways to streamline its processes and make its complaints mechanism more proactive and efficient – and ultimately more effective.
We believe that self-regulation is the way to go. But we also recognise that our detractors believe that self-regulation makes the industry a law unto itself. It is necessary to remove these fears and allay all suspicions in this regard.
As such, the media must make itself more transparent and more accessible to members of the public.

Ironically, this view echoes a conclusion I had reached in a paper - Freedom of the gatekeepers - comparing the 2007 reviews of the NZ Press Council and the Fiji media (Anthony report) presented at the Public Right to Know 7 conference in Sydney in mid-October.

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