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FIJI: Bale blasts media 'doom' over draft bill

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By Shailendra Singh

SUVA (USPJ/Pacific Media Watch): Fiji's Attorney General, Qoriniasi Bale, says that the controversial media bill will be passed into law contrary to earlier reports that it may be shelved.

In an interview in the Fiji Sun yesterday, Bale came out firing against the local media, accusing it of working against the Government by "playing along" with the prophets of doom in spreading negative news about Fiji.

Contrary to earlier reports and speculation that the bill may be shelved in the face of a fierce media campaign and widespread public discontent, Bale said that Government would enact the legislation.

He accused the media of "collectively" launching a broadside against Government, following the introduction of the draft bill.

"Signals from the Government are that it proposes to enact the legislation to allow, not the Government, but the laws of this nation, to prevent the media from printing not what is true, correct and fair but from printing what is incorrect, false and unfair."

Bale said the tendency of some media outlets to compete for breaking news at the expense of accurate reporting had made the task of governing the country harder. He said Government had been unnecessarily preoccupied dealing with this problem.

Bale, the Minister for Justice, is one of the strongest supporters of the Media Council of Fiji Bill in Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's cabinet.

The proposed bill which seeks to "regulate the content or conduct" of the media is being fiercely opposed by the media, which has rejected the bill outright, saying there should be no Government presence on the existing independent media council.

The proposed bill gives the Information Minister powers to appoint the chairman and other members equal to that of the media representatives on the council.

In yesterday's The Fiji Times letters column, a prominent Fiji personality, Dr Mary Schramm attacked the bill as an "astonishingly inept and opaque document".

She said the membership balance and the clause giving the council the powers to regulate media conduct and content could, collectively, lead to the manipulation by governments of the human right to the freedom of expression.

Dr Schramm also called on the existing Media Council to be more transparent and proactive in publishing breaches of the media code of ethics and in the area of education.



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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