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Regime PM Criticises Fiji Media At Magazine Launch

SUVA: Fiji journalists and news media have been criticised over journalism standards by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of the military installed interim regime, saying that sometimes the results "compromise the ideals of a free press", local newspapers report.

Speaking at the launching of a new regional magazine on 22 January 2001, Pacific, the Fiji Sun reported on January 24 under the headline "PM clips media" that he said too many reporters lacked basic skills and sound professional judgement.

"There are uncertain interviewers, poor verbal communicators, have problems with accuracy and are short on knowledge of current affairs," Qarase said.

He said that too often news reportage was "coloured by a degree of bias reflecting a journalist's own preconceived ideas or sympathies".

However, Qarase, who heads an interim administration ruled "illegal" in a High Court judgment last November in legal action over the May 19 coup, praised the new magazine's staff, saying "the standards of journalism they maintain remind us of what is possible".

Pacific magazine and a new website, www.pacificislands.cc, have been launched as a joint venture between Hawaii-based magazine publishers Pacific Basin Communications and Fiji-based publishers Islands Business International.

According to the Fiji Times on January 24, in a story headlined "Qarase attacks journos at launch", the Prime Minister said: "The result [of poor standards] is that coverage sometimes compromises the ideals of a free press.

"These shortcomings are particularly evident in the coverage of the important and racially sensitive issue of land and agricultural leases."

Qarase said stories on land issues usually depicted the side of the story of evicted or harassed tenants [mainly Indo-Fijians] with no attempt to seek the indigenous landowners' viewpoint.

The Prime Minister challenged the Fiji news media over a shortage of special writers, analysts and commentators, saying the country needed more of this writing style.

"I can detect some bias in media accounts of certain legal decisions announced recently," Qarase said, referring to the controversial Justice Anthony Gates ruling upholding the 1997 constitution as the supreme law of the country.

"If one decision in particular [the Gates judgement] had been understood properly in the totality of its significance, the emphasis of some of the coverage would have been very different."

The interim regime is seeking the overturning of the judgment in Fiji's Court of Appeal.

This is the second time in 16 months that a Fiji prime minister has criticised the country's media during media industry functions.

In October 1999, the elected Prime Minister of Fiji, Mahendra Chaudhry, lambasted the Fiji news media at the launch of a Fiji Media Council code of ethics, singling out the Fiji Times, Fiji Television and Islands Business for particularly scathing attacks.

Chaudhry, deposed in the May 1999 coup, was the country's first Indo-Fijian prime minister. He was highly critical of journalism standards in Fiji.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE: http://www.pmw.c2o.org


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