FIJI COVERAGE OF HOSTAGE CRISIS PRAISED

By Alison Ofotalau USP Journalism Programme

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 25, 2000 – Pacific Media Watch/USP Journalism Programme/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The president of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), William Parkinson, today praised the local media for its coverage on the hostage crisis in Fiji, saying it was the most complicated and demanding situation most young journalists have worked under.

However, speaking to Pacific Journalism Online, Parkinson said he was disappointed with the way some international journalists have been reporting the crisis.

"The international media has been a bit of a problem. We have some very good international journalists though, who have been to Fiji on a number of assignments, have developed local contacts, and have prior knowledge of the traditional and political structure of Fiji," said Parkinson, who is also managing director of Fiji Communications Ltd.

"At the same time, we have a lot of people who came here for this particular story.

"Parachute journalists who have no prior knowledge of the crisis arrived and reported, ignoring the fact that people who are reading and watching back home had no knowledge of the cultural or political situation here," he said.

Parkinson said much of the overseas reporting was sensational with inaccurate facts.

On the local front, Parkinson acknowledged the challenge most young journalists have been faced with regarding balanced reporting.

Questioned whether the media could have added fuel to the hostage crisis, Parkinson said it was a challenging situation for everybody, especially young journalists working under pressure.

He said FM96 had to make some critical decisions at times, as a lot of media organizations had been flooded with people expressing opinions.

The radio station been conscious of broadcasting only information that proved to be legitimate.

Parkinson said he sympathized with both Radio Fiji and Fiji Television which had received a directive from the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, on Saturday not to enter the Parliamentary complex with cameras or recording equipment.

Fiji's Daily Post associate editor Mesake Koroi blamed both the local and international media for "adding fuel" to the attempted coup.

Koroi said that allowing Speight live interviews meant "giving him a free ride" and an opportunity to say whatever he wanted.

"In a way, he's calling on the Fijian people to congregate at Parliament and support him, and I think some media organizations had a lot to do with this."

"Overseas journalists can blow it out of proportion.

"Look at the television pictures showing people going up to Parliament with dalo and pigs. It encourages people more to go there just for free food, free kava and is not helping the situation at all," he said.

Koroi said some reporters sending live reports had started calling Speight "the Interim Prime Minister, the self-styled Prime Minister", when in fact the country still had a legitimate government.

"As far as the constitution in this land is concerned, Mahendra Chaudhry is still the Prime Minister. Even the emergency powers vested in the President do no give him the power to dissolve Parliament.

He said this was because a lot of reporters were unfamiliar with the Public Safety Act, as emergency laws in such situations also apply to journalists.

"Because Fiji TV is a very powerful medium, the President was wary of the implications its reporting might have on the people so that is why he issued an individual directive to them from entering Parliament with their cameras," he said.

Asked about why his newspaper did not publish for a couple of days after the Parliament takeover, Koroi said it was a business decision as nobody was prepared in advance for the coup.

He said it was also due to a cut in the electricity supply to the office, as a shop nearby had burned down. Koroi said he also had security concerns for his staff.

Fiji Times deputy editor Netani Rika said the media had played its usual role by reporting factually on developments as they happened.

"Our editorials have called for people to see reason, to act responsibly during this difficult time. Anyone who accuses the media of fueling the coup has their own agenda."

He said the Fiji Times made editorial decisions in the same way they were made before the coup.

"That is we look at the news worthiness, and check to see whether people making statements have some political standing, because we received a lot of statements from groups that cropped up overnight," said Rika.

Title -- 2739 FIJI: Media coverage of hostage crisis praised Date -- 25 May 2000 Byline -- Alison Ofotalau Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- USP Journalism Programme, 25/5/00 Copyright -- USP Journalism Programme Status – Unabridged

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