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New PJR challenges Pacific censorship, political ‘shackles’

MEDIA RELEASE 27 May 2013

New PJR challenges Pacific censorship, political ‘shackles’

AUCKLAND: Fiji’s brand of post-coup media censorship and other Pacific political curbs have been challenged in the latest Pacific Journalism Review published today.

“Even if the Fiji media are shackled, conferences in 2010 and 2012 provided opportunity and space to engage in some open dialogue, including criticism of the regime authorities,” the AUT-published international journal says.

“The proceedings were not confined to the Suva conference venue, or within Fiji’s borders – this is the digital age after all.”

Many of the papers by Pacific journalists and media analysts were presented at a Media and Democracy in the South Pacific conference hosted at the University of the South Pacific last September.

Other articles, in the edition, co-edited by USP’s Shailendra Singh and AUT’s Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie, feature New Caledonia, West Papua and climate change reporting in the region.

Canadian communications professor and author Robert A. Hackett warns of ‘significant democratic shortcomings’ in the media’s watchdog, public sphere, community-building and communication equity roles.

He advocates “critical selectivity” over “wholesale adoption” of Western media models in the South Pacific to avoid some “entrenched shortcomings”.

Such shortcomings have been highlighted in Shazia Usman’s study on the Fiji print media’s coverage of female candidates in the country’s 2006 elections.

Reflecting international trends, the Fiji daily newspapers “lavished attention” on male candidates while “cold-shouldering” female candidates.

The Fiji Times quoted female candidates 20 times and male candidates 218 times, while the Fiji Sun quoted females 29 times, and males 292 times.

The lopsided coverage can be attributed to the disparity between the number of male and female candidates, a pattern shared elsewhere in the Pacific.

Usman’s findings have parallels with Shailendra Singh’s article on conflict reporting in Fiji. His article discusses the preliminary findings of a national media survey conducted in 2012 and content analysis of coverage of Fiji’s 2006 elections.

The findings suggest a relatively young, inexperienced and untrained journalist cohort captive to a political elite that serves as its primary news source.

David Robie advocates greater media visibly for indigenous, ethnic and other minorities marginalised in the “monocultural Western news model”.

He argues that there are distinct approaches to Pacific journalism that, while embracing core notions of the Fourth Estate, also embrace cultural and ethnicity influences.

This creates tensions when marginalised groups are shut out of the media.

The Fiji military-backed government is preparing the country for elections in September 2014 under a controversial new constitution.

Mosmi Bhim writes of media self-censorship, government warnings of a harsh crackdown on ‘trouble-makers’, and state promises of free, fair, and transparent elections - “all in the same breath”.

Like Bhim, American television professor Robert A. Hooper, who has been training Pacific (and other global South) journalists frequently for the past 20 years, paints a grim picture of Fiji.

Hooper blames this on a “decline of Western interest and influence in the Pacific, with China and even Russia only too eager to fill the void”.

He provides case studies of Fiji ‘censorship in action’ as personally experienced with his young student journalist and television industry protégés.

In New Caledonia, Marie M’Bala-Ndi also has some serious questions about public interest journalism and democratic empowerment as the French-ruled Pacific territory, which faces a referendum over independence between 2014 and 2019.

The new Frontline section, edited by Professor Wendy Bacon and dealing links between theory and practice in journalism research, features Bridget Fitzgerald from Monash University. She discusses how she approached three substantial features on climate change in local Australian contexts.

Unthemed articles in the edition explore online journalism case studies over the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, conflicted attitudes over writing style for online news media in Australia and New
Zealand, and the training preparation of young journalists in New Zealand for reporting traumatic incidents.

PJR website: www.pjreview.info

ENDS

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