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FIJI: CCF Seeks Stronger Stake In Media Council

CCF Seeks Stronger Civil Society Stake In Media Council

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SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): The Citizens' Constitutional Forum has called for a major shake-up of the Fiji Media Council's representation as part of its submissions over the controversial media legislation.

But while it has also called on the Fiji government to revise the draft bill, CCF also says this should go back to the public only after freedom of information and leadership code of conduct laws have been enacted.

According to CCF, the news media representation on the council should be reduced from the current eight members to three - one member nominated each by print media, broadcast media and journalist "associations or trade unions".

This is comparable to press council composition in Australia and New Zealand which has representatives for the specific newspaper and magazine sectors . The New Zealand Press Council membership also includes representation for the national journalists' union.

The CCF also calls for dedicated civil society members, an approach that appears similar in some respects to Papua New Guinea.

Under the CCF proposal, seven members representing the public would be nominated by civil society (one - Forum of Non-Government Organisations); Christians (two - the Fiji Council of Churches and Assemblies of Christian Churches); Hindus (one - Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha and the Arya Samaj); Muslims (one - Fiji Muslim League); the legal profession (one - Fiji Law Society); and tertiary education (one - a committee of tertiary institutions chaired by the University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor).

The 10-member council would be chaired by an independent person.

"The draft [bill] mainly discusses the council and its procedures for complaints and appeals. The overall emphasis is on media regulation and control," CCF says in its submission, which follows an earlier oral presentation to the government.

"Yet according to the Ministry of Information, 'the heart of the draft Media Bill is to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the media'.

"However, there are no provisions, procedures or mechanisms whatsoever to implement this.

"One key function of the bill is supposedly 'to safeguard and be an advocate for media freedom' but this function is not mentioned elsewhere in the draft. This is a serious omission, which must be addressed in further revisions of the draft."

The CCF submission says that any proposed bill should "embrace the spirit of the [1996] Thomson Report in full".

Among key issues:

* Role of media: "We in Fiji should accept (Thomson Report, section 2.1.2) that 'in a healthy democracy, the relationship between politicians and a free press is, quite properly, likely to be wary, questioning and sceptical, rather than close, cosy and adulatory'."

* Powers of the Council: "The Thomson Report recommends that the council have the power (4.6.6) 'to require an offending media outlet to publish its judgment in full and in a specified form' and the duty (4.7.1) 'to speak out when it believes that freedom is threatened from any quarter [and] these duties be included in its regulations'. Both are important principles, which are missing from the draft bill."

* Existing legislation: "The Thomson Report recommends (section 4.9.2) that the 1949 Press Correction Act be repealed, as the draft bill endorses, the Defamation Act (4.9.3) be left in force, the Fair Trading Decree of 1992 (section 4.9.4) remain in force but be reviewed when other relevant mechanisms are in place, and the Official Secrets Act (4.10.8) be replaced by an act which makes official information available to the public.

"The CCF believes the Media Council Bill should be redrafted but introduced for public consultation only after the Freedom of Information Act and the Code of Conduct Act have been enacted, as required under Articles 174 and 156 of the [1997] Constitution."



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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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