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Fiji Sun challenges media 'interpretations'

Fiji Sun challenges media 'interpretations'

24 February 2001

* Pacific Media Watch Online:
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* See PMW items 3226, 3222

SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's newest daily newspaper, the Sun, has
challenged some of its rivals over "interpretations" of media freedom in
the wake of allegations of suppression of information by broadcast news
media during the Court of Appeal constitutional hearing this week.

In an editorial on 24 February 2001, headlined "Whose story is it
anyway?", the newspaper expressed concern over claims that some media
may have been "ordered" not to broadcast, or voluntarily excluded
certain content because "they perceived that free speech, by some, was
dangerous to the public order".

The newspaper was apparently referring to alleged exclusion of
pro-democracy civil society news and views since the May 2000 coup by
failed businessman George Speight.

The Fiji Sun was also critical of some media coverage of this week's
police pressure on Fiji Television to postpone its "leaders forum"
meeting at a seaside suburb resort hotel. This was to have been
broadcast in a special edition of the Close-Up current affairs programme
on February 22.

"It is a matter of interpretation whether there was any infringement of
the news media, since the event could be restaged in a studio," the
newspaper said.

"Fiji TV's position was that the forum was only an extension of their
regular weekly Close-Up programme and not a public meeting. They also
believed the promised participation of [Police] Commissioner [Isikia]
Savua indicated all was well for the event.

"However, the point of view from the police was that the forum
constituted a public meeting and required a permit under the emergency
decree, therefore it could not legally take place.

Fiji TV decided to postpone the event faced with a large police presence
and few of the invited guests turning up. It has been rescheduled for
next week and Fiji TV is applying for a permit.

The Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) president,
William Parkinson, a private broadcaster, described the police action as
"overreaction, unfortunate and deplorable," and as a major threat to
freedom of expression in Fiji.

But the Fiji Sun said in its editorial: "It was a rare instance of
direct confrontation between civil authorities and the news media under
the emergency decree.

"Despite the national crisis raging for more than nine months, it must
be pointed out that the police and the military did little to directly
interfere with freedom of the news media. Indeed, they respectfully
asked most news media for cooperation in maintaining peace and order for
the citizens of Fiji."

The Fiji Sun, owned by a consortium of Indo-Fijian businesses and the
indigenous investment company Fijiian Holdings Ltd, has tried to present
itself as more "independent" than the two other dailies,
government-owned Daily Post and the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times.

"Certainly, there was direct intervention when [state-run] Fiji
Broadcasting Corporation reporters were questioned about the source of a
crucial report from within the military, but by all accounts the
military was more concerned about its own internal security than
suppressing the story," said the Fiji Sun.

"The reporters, perhaps somewhat intimidated by the attention, were not
abused and later shown to have been on the mark.

"However, evidence introduced at the recent Court of Appeal hearing
exposed the shadows of a more sinister type of media control.

"Testimony alleged the interim government suppressed support for the
1997 constitution through control of state broadcasters and may have
gained tacit agreement from private broadcasters who believed they were
helping the nation by avoiding some content, perhaps deemed

"This is where the question lies, not in the action by a television
station and the police, but in the action NOT taken by news media
trusted with providing a full picture of what is going on.

"They may have been ordered not to broadcast certain content, or perhaps
voluntarily did not broadcast such content because they perceived that
free speech, by some, was dangerous to the public order."



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.

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