SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Sept. 21) - Ethnic labeling is the media's fault. It is irresponsible reporting, for example, of the Lomolomo murder in which a youth was allegedly killed by a businessman, that has harmed race relations. So says Dr. Akanisi Kedrayate of the National Council of Reconciliation and Unity. We agree. And we wish she'd hammer home the same message to her bosses in the Government whose own newspaper it was that played up the racial elements of this tragic case.

And before anyone argues that the Media Council should bring that publication into line, they might pause to check some facts. The Government's newspaper is not a member of the Media Council. It is the only daily that isn't. In addition the Government itself, through its Ministry of Information, is a member - but has signally failed to attend meetings. Yet it insists on misleading parliament on how the council operates.

And if Kedrayate truly wants to end ethnic labeling - as she no doubt does - she might do better by campaigning to end the offensive government questionnaire that all visitors are obliged to fill in on arrival in Fiji. It demands the minutest details of every visitor's ethnic origin. That said, there are genuine difficulties in reporting the news with an absence of ethnic labeling.

Simply by naming people, the media - especially in Fiji - gives usually quite explicit knowledge of a person's race and ethnic origins. Short of giving blanket anonymity to crooks, twisters and - heaven forbid - politicians and senior civil servants, there seems little the media can do to avoid ethnic labeling in that sense.

But it can and should - and usually does - avoid headlines such as "Indian father charged with death of Fijian student," which appeared on the front page of the Government's newspaper. Most media organizations - with the exception of the government-controlled one - accept and try to adhere to the Media Council code of ethics, which is absolutely against ethnic labeling in all its forms. When the code is breached people can and do complain. And they receive a fair and objective hearing from the council's complaints committee none of whose members can be drawn from or even connected with the media.

It may well be that in her understandable frustration, Kedrayate has lashed out at the media in general without pausing to check some hard facts. If she cared to produce some before the complaints committee, she might be pleasantly surprised at the reaction.

September 22, 2006

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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