Fiji’s ‘how to gag the media’ report


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By David Robie in Café Pacific

It is ironic that Jim Anthony’s flawed report for the Fiji Human Rights Commission should be dubbed with an Orwellian title “Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji”. It is far more like a “How to gag and shackle the media” report. It’s the sort of report that gives even military-backed regimes bad reputations. A great pity. A constructive, well-researched and useful – but genuinely independent – examination of the Fiji media is long overdue. A 2007 review of the NZ Press Council is an example of the sort of thing that can be done. But the Anthony report doesn’t show any interest in “free media” models that work well – he has been seduced by authoritarian straitjackets. Perhaps he isn’t even aware of the M*A*S* work of the late Professor Claude-Jean Bertrand, the pioneer of global media accountability systems. A report as racist, provocative and ill-informed as this – with not even elementary referencing or sourcing – is rather embarrassing.

However, much of the media response in Fiji is also extraordinarily defensive and hypocritical, even bordering on hysterical. Why do they even bother to take such a report seriously? Surely the Anthony report deserved to quietly fade into oblivion – hardly worthy of any serious response. Yet some of the over-the-top reactions have ensured the Anthony report has gained far more international attention than it ever warranted. And certainly the spotlight is on foreign influence in media ownership. But the public deserves more than the defensive bleatings from self-interested media and political voices — where are the independent commentators and analysts for balance?

The Fiji Times is one of the few to publish the odd independent reaction, such as from the Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA), which criticised the media for being the ‘mouthpiece of the elite’ and also for poor journalism standards. We also wonder about the timing of the report’s release, given that it was made available hurriedly just three days after the arbitrary deportation of Fiji Times publisher Russell Hunter. Ousted Opposition leader Mick Beddoes described Dr Anthony as “paranoid”, saying some of his “accusations and conclusions are not worth the paper they’re printed on”. A former deputy PM in Mahendra Chaudhry’s People’s Coalition government deposed by George Speight in 2000, Dr Tupeni Baba, dismissed the report as biased.

Dr Anthony told Radio New Zealand International that media and government relations had broken down, and for years the media had poured venom into Fiji’s body politic:

Playing crybaby over this report isn’t really going to wash. The media representatives, the media barons, were invited to participate in this report; they chose to boycott the inquiry. In my opinion, that was a fatally flawed decision.”

A quick summary of the report’s recommendations:

  • Expatriate journalists living in Fiji would be banned from working in the country under recommendations by the country’s human rights commission.
  • A media tribunal would be established independent of government control.
  • A Fiji media development authority would be established based on a system in Singapore to monitor media organisations and train journalists.
  • A 7 percent tax on media advertising and license fees would be imposed to fund the tribunal and authority.
  • New sedition laws would be introduced.

Too many whites in media, says academicaudio – Anthony’s defence of his report on Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Media report calls for training authority
A Fiji Times breakdown of the FHRC media report into handy pdf morsels – and a summary of media reactions
The Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA) response
Report author condemns failure of media to take part
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Fiji media walks the fine line
Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji – The Anthony report (FHRC website)

David Robie
David Robie
Dr David Robie was previously founding director and professor of journalism at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre (PMC). He worked with postgraduate student journalists to edit Pacific Media Watch - a daily digital archive of dispatches about Pacific journalism and media, ethics and professionalism. The PMC also jointly published the high profile independent Pacific Scoop news website with industry partner, Scoop Media, and Asia Pacific Report, which David now edits independently in partnership with Evening Report: David is also the founding editor of Pacific Journalism Review (PJR).
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