Editorial comment – A welcome turn of events

Media personnal and invited guests during the Media Industry Development Act public consultation at the Suvavou House in Suva on Thursday, March 23, 2023. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

You could feel the emotions in some of the leaders of Fiji’s newsrooms yesterday! Finally! After 12 years, it is happening! When Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka announced that Cabinet had approved a Bill to repeal the draconian media legislation, it was met with joy in newsrooms.

Today we reflect on the Media Industry Development Act 2010, and use Part 4 – Content regulation as an example. Sections 22, 23 and 24 dominated the way we were forced to do our work over 12 years.

Section 22 states that the content of any media service must not include material which – (a) is against the public interest or order; (b) is against national interest; or (c) creates communal discord.

Section 23 states that the content of any print media which is in excess of 50 words must include a byline and wherever practical, the content of any other media service must include a byline.

But it is Section 24 that is frightening.

It is about offences relating to content regulation.

It states: A breach of any of the provisions in or under sections 22 and 23 by a media organisation shall constitute an offence and the media organisation shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or in the case of a publisher or editor to a fine not exceeding $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

For crying out loud, editors faced the harsh reality of possible jail time if someone missed a byline on a story over 50 words! For 12 years we have been highlighting this major issue in our laws.

The fact that there was no clarity, explanation, or an accompanying sub-section about what constitutes a possible breach of Section 22 was a major concern. Given the fact that content on media platforms are obviously of national, public and international interest, who would determine what was a breach?

It is encouraging that Government is going to repeal the Act. The fines are discouraging, and obviously designed to punish and control the media. They have suppressed media freedom and the development of journalists.

They were a barrier to freedom of expression and suppressed the people’s right to information. The fact that there were no cases taken before MIDA or the courts shifts attention to this role of suppression.

These stifling penalties were hanging over the heads of media leaders over 12 years. They were forced to second guess angles to take to stay clear of possible breaches. Legal bills hit the roof as editors were forced to have stories carefully scrutinised to keep them within the laws.

Media freedom and freedom of expression, like the PM said, is the oxygen of democracy. It empowers media organisations to hold governments to account, and assists the development of journalists.

We realise also that with a repeal of this legislation will come a greater responsibility to ensure the media’s code of ethics and rules that serve as guidelines are embraced, and the values of good journalism are encouraged.

In saying that, we reflect on our journey as an organisation, and acknowledge every member of staff, our readers, and supporters for standing by The Fiji Times.

Today we heave a sigh of relief and look forward with great anticipation to the repeal of this piece of legislation that certainly has no place in a real democracy.

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