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EDITORIAL Fiji Times Suva, Fiji Islands

May 6, 2002

Recent observation on the local media point to one important fact -- the government must fully promote an unrestrictive media policy. In addition, there is a need to educate the people more on the role of the media, beginning preferably at school level.

There is an important need for the people to be made aware of this role if they are to use the media in freely expressing their views. The Government should support the Media Council's initiative on this.

Cabinet ministers who recently attended a media awareness workshop have voiced their appreciation of the media's role, which they had misunderstood all along. For too long the Government and other institutions have held and promoted the notion that an unrestrained media does not suit the Fiji situation. The media has often been blamed for contributing to most of the country's ills by its coverage of given events.

There is also a misguided theory that this country is not ready for a critical and aggressive media because of the traditional system of values and its developing nation status.

In reality, however, it is an excuse used by incompetent, embarrassed and sometimes corrupt officials who don't want their weaknesses exposed.

Some governments around the world today use this same excuse to stifle reports on their mismanagement and shortcomings as an attempt to remain in power. The very same reason is used to justify censorship and the persecution of journalists.

There are countless examples of politicians in this country using the shoot-the-messenger tactic to soften the impact of their blunders or lies.

This is not to say that the media does not make mistakes. It does and because of this has in place means to correct the mistakes it makes. It has also provided avenues people can use to lodge complaints against the media.

Information Minister Josefa Vosanibola has indicated the Government's plans to introduce new media legislation based on a report by two British consultants in 1996.

Thankfully, the report is an independent outside view of the Fiji media, which argues against curbing media independence.

Mr. Vosanibola has promised to consult widely with industry people before tabling the Bill. Hopefully everyone will view the report in the spirit it is intended and ensure the media maintains its watchdog role. No one but the people are the beneficiaries.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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