FIJI: Editor Philemon Replies To Minister
Article provided by the Journalism Programmme, University of the South Pacific. Pacific Media Watch.
Fiji Islands (PMW):
Papua New Guinean newspaper editor Oseah Philemon has challenged the Fiji Islands Government to release details of a proposed state-controlled media tribunal.
He said this while declaring that he stood by his earlier claim that the Fiji Islands would become the first country to be ruled by a civilian dictator if Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry went ahead with "his threat to legislate against media freedom in Fiji".
In a statement released by the Pacific Islands News Association secretariat in Suva on 11 November 1999, PINA vice-president Philemon, who is editor of the PNG Post-Courier, hit back at a personal attack on him by Fiji's Assistant Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi published in two Suva daily newspapers the previous day.
Vayeshnoi had claimed that Philemon was "misinformed" and was "hallucinating" over Government plans over media regulation.
"I stand by my statement that Fiji will become the first country in the South Pacific to be ruled by a civilian dictator if Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry goes ahead with his threat to legislate against media freedom in Fiji," said Philemon in his latest statement.
"The threat to establish a media tribunal is a serious threat against media freedom contrary to how Fiji's Assistant Information Minister, Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, would want the public to believe.
"How else can a government-controlled media tribunal operate other than to follow directions from their political masters to penalise the media in its decisions?"
Philemon said Vayeshnoi should release full details of the powers and functions of the proposed tribunal so that the people of Fiji could decide for themselves whether the proposal was for their benefit.
"The experiences of countries which uphold media freedom show that industry-based self-regulatory bodies such as media complaints tribunals operate better without government interference than they would if they were under government control," he said.
He added that PINA regarded the prime minister's proposal as "dangerous to media freedom".
Fiji news media have vigorously defended themselves against the threat, although the prime minister claims he will keep his electoral pledge last May that he will honour the constitutional guarantee of media freedom.
Independent commentators have claimed that the news media is overreacting and that they need to be more committed to higher professional standards and credibility.
* Fiji Islands was the first country in the South Pacific to have a military dictator when then third-ranked military officer Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka staged a bloodless coup in May 1987, detaining members of the democratically elected government at gunpoint - including current Prime Minister Chaudhry.
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.