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Fiji Seminar Discusses Peace Journalism

Fiji Seminar Discusses Peace Journalism

SUVA (Radio Australia/Pacific Media Watch): A two-day workshop for civil society organisations on "Peace Journalism" is underway in Suva, Fiji.

Jake Lynch, director for the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, is a keynote speaker.

Professor Lynch looks at the challenges and opportunities posed by the new press laws in Fiji.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Professor Jake Lynch, director for the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney

LYNCH: Well, in practical terms for the people in the workshop they are concerned to do advocacy work on behalf of various disadvantaged people in Fiji. For example people who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of increasing food prices, people who are struggling to overcome the kind of cultural issues surrounding the problems of domestic violence for example.

So they're thinking creatively how they can raise these concerns in and around various media here in Fiji, and of course some of the challenges originate from the press laws in the country, and some of the challenges frankly originate in very familiar things, familiar from the media in many countries, including Australia, like what journalists are interested in and how journalists think the news should be, and those kind of issues.

COUTTS: Well specifically to Fiji now and the laws. How do people carry out this brief in those areas you've outlined given the media restrictions that they've got?

LYNCH: Traditionally the Citizens Constitutional Forum and numerous other advocacy groups would do what they call hard-hitting advocacy. And they would take a stance which was very directly critical of the government for example. Now that's one way of ventilating those issues, and it would fit with expectations among journalists of the kind of role they might play given that Fiji's media probably inherited a lot of its assumptions from the British system.

But it's certainly not the only way to ventilate those issues. And what I've been encouraging them to do is to think how they can arrange for the kind of testimony and perspectives of people at the grassroots, people who are dealing with these issues in every day life to be more widely known and more widely appreciated, and thereby contribute to a national conversation in Fiji about the issues on their own merits.

It doesn't necessarily have to be fed through the filter perhaps familiar to audiences in Australia, where so many issues are wrapped around a claim by the opposition and a counter claim by the government, that kind of thing.

COUTTS: Well what role then do organisations like Femlink Pacific play, because they've got community radio and all sorts of things, do they have an easier road because they're outside the mainstream media, what role do they have?

LYNCH: Not necessarily, we heard a very interesting talk by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, who's in charge of Femlink Pacific here, talking about their community radio stations. She is the one as the Chief Executive Officer of Femlink, responsible for ensuring that those stations comply with the press laws.

But she was saying much the same thing, she described how they have a network of on the ground correspondents to give them a real ear to the ground in many of the rural communities in Fiji, to communities that are perhaps ill-served by traditional media. And in that way they are able to project into the public sphere some of the experiences and testimonies of people who are grappling with real issues in every day life.

COUTTS: Well, what are some of the questions that are coming from the floor to you?

LYNCH: Well people are wanting to know what opportunities there are to perhaps reform their ideas about the situation they're in. In a sense the situation they're in is a conflict. I mean everybody in the room frankly would rather there were no press laws, they would rather go back to the previous system and I suppose that, and in an ideal world that's what we would have.

But that's certainly not to say that they're can't be an authentic national conversation about issues that matter. For example to turn to the front page of today's Fiji Times has a rather good story on the front page called "Over the top, prisoners in remand breach capacity figure". Whether that's based on their reading of official statistics given out by the relevant ministry, but it does say that the number of remand prisoners is three times what it should be for the capacity of the system.

Now that's rather good in my view, that's taking the perspective of a marginalised group, prisoners, people behind bars, how often do we see that in Australian media? Usually the boot is very much on the other foot in terms of people calling for tougher conditions for prisoners. So the existence of the press laws certainly does not mean that important and critical issues cannot be ventilated, and that's really the preoccupation of people here.


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