Hard News by Russell Brown


Media freedom in the Pacific

As all good liberal-lefties know, News Limited/Corporation is the evil empire, the home of Fox News and the plaything of a Machiavellian billionaire. Sometimes commentators will actually plain make things up in pursuit of this point.

But what say News was the good guy? That's certainly the case in Fiji, where the Fiji Times has been repeatedly targeted by the regime. Its publisher was detained and deported in 2008, then his replacement suffered the same fate a year later. The present publisher had her turn at being intimidated this month.

But the most significant challenge yet to the Times' efforts at free and fair reporting is the regime's draft Media Industry Development Decree, which seems aimed at shutting down the paper altogether, and reining in two other papers with some foreign ownership. (Cognitive Dissonance Alert: foreign media ownership is good for democracy and transparency in Fiji.) It limits offshore ownership to 10% and imposes proscriptive rules on the eligibility of directors.

As David Robie explains in this useful analysis, the draft decree includes other oppressive provisions. Even Crosby Walsh, a defender of the present Fijian leadership, agrees that the decree is a worrying development.

John Woods, the Cook Islands-based vice-president of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), says PINA should withdraw from Fiji in response to the decree.

Global Voices Online rounds up other responses.

And Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, has slated the Fijian leadership's attempts to shut down critics. Ironically, the Samoan government used our Broadcasting Standards process to make a complaint over a story about organised crime in the islands by TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver – and then ignored an embargo on the decision to gloat about it.

The Dreaver decision follows a fairly odd decision by the BSA to partially uphold a complaint from Fiji's attorney general about an interview with Fairfax's Michael Field on Radio New Zealand. (It seems a bit rich to complain about a Pacific affairs reporter relying on "websites and blogs" for information when you've banned him from entering your country to report.)

The state of press freedom in the Pacific should be of concern to us all, because it is so closely tied to the fortunes of democracy (I find Walsh's contention that the news media should not pursue a "watchdog" model in developing countries extremely unconvincing), and because, to take one example, more vigorous media scrutiny might have averted the Tongan ferry disaster.

Anyway, that's our topic for Media7 this week, and I'll be joined by Robie, Dreaver and one more to be confirmed. If you'd like to attend tomorrow's recording, we'll need you at TVNZ about 5pm. Click Reply to let me know.


From another part of the Pacific Rim, Simon Grigg has been passing on useful reports and insights on the trouble in Bangkok – and indulging in some justifiable venting about the lack of coverage in the New Zealand media over the weekend.

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