Guest Editorial by Dr Biman Prasad
The Media Industry Development Decree (MIDA) issued recently by the Fijian Government is regressive and suppresses Media Freedom because it imposes restrictions and prescribes heavy penalties.
Government must repeal the Decree through an Act of Parliament, because neither the State nor the Government should regulate the media.
The government must enact, ‘Freedom of Information Legislation’ so that the media and members of the public have access to official Government documents to effectively promote accountability and transparency.
Restoration of Parliamentary democracy has seen little change in the behaviour of large sections of our media and individual journalists.
The government has justified the Media Decree on social, economic and political stability. However, all that these restrictive provisions have done is to push opposition views into anonymous online media platforms, where they have re-emerged in more extreme forms.
People have lost faith in the mainstream news media. Instead, they are relying on blogs, where people are posting comments. Some of these blogs are full of rumours, misinformation, incitement to racial violence, calls for revolution, hate crime and even terrorism.
The government’s misguided media policy is to be partly blamed for this sorry state of affairs. In other words, the Media Decree has done nothing for social stability.
In fact, it has increased tensions.
There is a requirement that all news stories have to be balanced or they cannot be published. This is a further sign of legislation gone mad.
This provision has simply become a loophole to evade media scrutiny by not responding to media questions.
But if a story is positive towards the government, this legal requirement is ignored without consequence. This is selective use of the Media Law by government for its own disadvantage. What we are saying is that the media decree is open to abuse by the State.
The Fiji Sun, in its January 15, 2015 issue, ran in entirety the government’s response to the Opposition’s concerns regarding political party office resourcing without any balance and accuracy. This perfectly illustrates what we are saying.
Every international organisation of repute has expressed concern about the regressive and draconian provisions of the MIDA Decree.
The latest was the United Nations Human Rights Commission late last year.
Genuine democracy, equal citizenry, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, which are ethics being paraded by government, can only be achieved through a free, fair, credible and non-regulated media.
Dr Biman Prasad is Leader of the National Federation Party and a Member of Fijian Parliament. The above is an operative portion of his statement on Media Freedom, much of which appears under Fijilink in this issue.