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In praise of media freedom

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COMMENTS

29 March 2010 09:10

Fiji's interim government has just extended its Public Emergency Regulations (PER) until the end of April. The PER has been implemented on a month-to-month basis and this latest extension will mean that it has been in place for more than a year.

The most prominent feature of the PER is Article 16, which authorises the Permanent Secretary for Information to censor the media to ensure that no broadcast or publication can give rise to disorder. That the PER is due to be lifted after Fiji introduces a new media decree (originally planned to be issued this month) demonstrates that control of the media has been the central motivation of the PER. 

It does seem a little incongruous that, in the absence of evidence of armed insurrection or public rioting, a popular and peaceful tourist destination like Fiji needs emergency regulations.

Fiji's media restrictions have meant that Fiji's media outlets have refrained or been prevented from offering much critical commentary about any issue concerning politics or government. There has also been a noticeable decline in the number of Fiji citizens willing to speak to foreign media outlets. 

They have instead turned to blogs to publish their views. This is good for foreign access to news about Fiji and for the approximately 9.7 percent of people in Fiji who reportedly have access to the internet. But what about the other 90 percent? 

Fiji's Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said last week that he was concerned about the lack of transparency in government-owned enterprises and believed that few people understood the real meaning of good governance. This information from Transparency International and this opinion from University of South Pacific Professor Wadan Narsey offer some advice about the importance of a free media in encouraging good governance and public accountability.

I haven['t seen the draft Media Decree so cannot comment on specifics. If the Fiji Government thinks seriously about what it has to gain rather than lose by allowing full media freedom, it could address the Attorney-General's concern about the lack of public understanding of good governance. Allowing the entire population of Fiji access to independent information about how they are governed, how business operates and how the economy is performing might be a good start.

Photo by Flickr user Jachin Sheehy, used under a Creative Commons license.

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