World Press Freedom Day: Despite Selective Media Freedom, our journalists are doing a remarkable job
Monday 3rd April 2021
This Press Freedom Day, as Fiji stands against the Covid-19 B1617 strain, there has never been a more appropriate moment to express gratitude to our journalists who place themselves at risk in these times to bring us the real news, and ask the right questions without fear or favour, on our behalf.
Fiji owes those who promote independent and impartial news, our immense thanks. They are doing a remarkable job given that Fiji has only Selective Media Freedom.
The UN has designated the theme for this year's annual to be: "Information as a Public Good". The UN highlights 3 major topics in this regard:
Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;
Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies;
Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good
To Fiji's shame, two recent international reports shine a searing spotlight on Fiji's media freedoms and tell the world many compelling truths.
The 2020 "World Press Freedom Index" report and ranking by Reporters without borders, released very recently rates our media freedoms as a problematic situation. Fiji's ranking has dropped from 52 to 55, out of a total of 180 countries. The report highlights the draconian Media Industry Development Act, as the enabler of the suppression of real truths.
The 2020 US State Departments report on human rights practices, released in March this year, again reiterates Fiji's plummeting track record detailing self-censorship by the media, while also stressing the muzzling nature of the Media Industry Development Act.
In line with the UN's concerns on the transparency of internet companies, it should be major cause for concern when the Government is working with Facebook to "remove rumours about covid19", as was reported publicly by FBC on 15 April 2021 (https://www.fbcnews.com.fj/news/facebook-addresses-covid-19-misinformation-in-fiji/?fbclid=IwAR22Tuweml1oorLPG0LM7Y8_I_RewjzoqbI2a-Hwlyhe3F2FVmMlZsTEZNI).
While the Government may have concerns about Covid rumours slowing down its vaccination rollout plans, as a matter of principle, we must all uphold the freedom "to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas", as well as the freedom from "scientific or medical treatment or procedures without an order of the court or without his or her informed consent", as promoted in their 2013 Constitution.
Fiji will only enjoy absolute media freedom with the repeal of the draconian Media Industry Development Act, first legislated as a Decree in 2010.
However, we do not expect the current government to repeal it. This will have to be done as a matter of priority by the next government.
And we will do it.