RA'S Pacific Beat On Fiji Double Murder Coverage
(NOTE: The following item compiled by James Panichi was broadcast on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme and the transcript is distributed by PMW with permission. © Radio Australia 17/7/1)
SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Now to Fiji and concerns about media coverage of investigations into the murder of the country's Red Cross Director John Scott and his partner Gregory Scrivener earlier this month.
Over a week ago, a 23-year-old man, Apete Kaisau, was charged with the murder.
But by the time he appeared before a magistrate, the story of how he had allegedly killed the two men - along with possible motives for the killing - had already received extensive media coverage.
In fact, the media has been briefed regularly on the case from the moment police began investigating the killings, with much being made of Mr Scott's homosexuality and unsubstantiated allegations that he had sexually exploited younger men.
Much of the information on the case came from official statements by Police Commissioner Isikia Savua, even after charges had already been laid.
Fiji's Media Watch has condemned newspaper and television coverage of the killings as sensationalist and homophobic, arguing the media has allowed itself to be manipulated.
Media Watch's coordinator Swasti Chand told James Panichi that most of the responsibility for the reporting lies with Fiji's news editors.
CHAND: They are also partly to be blamed for not checking the stories that have been floating around or have been actually been printed or have been run for the consumers of media here in Fiji.
PANICHI: But if the police commissioner is making the statement is it fair to expect the media not to report the statements, which are being made by the highest of authorities?
CHAND: The whole matter, there is not actually arrests there as I agree the very fact that the highest police officer brings out this statement, the media is there, it will play right into the hands of the police commissioner, and you know we've had it once when the upheavals of May 19th, 2000, took place, the media played right into George Speight's hands and here we are again, we've witnessed this sort of thing, this negative portrayal and the media is to be blamed for it. I mean can we really blame the police commissioner?
PANICHI: It also comes down to the fact that the media had received inside information, behind the scenes information from investigating authorities, which would no doubt be very difficult to corroborate, so can the journalists be held accountable for these problems?
CHAND: I'm sure they can be held accountable for these problems. We haven't had a court case, nothing has been proved by the courts yet, it's just theories and rumours floating around, so the stories are not balanced, they are not fair.
PANICHI: What would be the solution to this problem though? Would it simply be the introduction of stronger contempt of law regulations to stop all reporting before and during the actual trial?
CHAND: I guess so, I mean just as we are seeing in the state trial, I think there should be a gag on reporting as to what the actual, you know the trial takes place in the courts, because whatever has been portrayed by the media at the moment there is no justification at all, it is just the media which is justifying the police commissioner's outburst, I'd call it rather, and you know when the police commissioner stands in front of the press and says, you know murders happen in Australia and New Zealand. In a way he's saying why shouldn't it happen in Fiji?
So these things really, and you know the grassroots people who are consumers of the media actually believe what they see and hear, what's going on in the media, what's being reported in the media. So I mean I say that the media in Fiji has to be blamed for all this mess that we are right in on the coverage of the murder of Mr John Scott and his partner.
And actually it has also created a fear among the gay community because one newspaper had a headline where the police blamed the intense hatred as a motive of the killer towards Mr Scott's homosexuality. So I mean the gay community is also living in fear at the moment.
* Swasti Chand, coordinator of Fiji Media Watch, speaking with James Panichi.
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