FIJI MEDIA BARRED FROM TALKING WITH CHIEFS

SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, April 13) – Members of the media yesterday expressed concern over what they deemed were attempts by the Fijian Affairs Ministry to restrict freedom of speech.

Fiji Sun Editor-in-Chief Russell Hunter said the restrictions against talking to chiefs after the council meeting was in fact a suppression of the right to express.

"What if the chiefs want to talk to the media? Quite a number of them do, in fact. Will the secretariat prevent them from doing so? This ruling (if indeed it is a ruling) can only paint the council as an ageing body of people trapped by protocol," he said.

Mr Hunter said it did nothing to present the council as a relevant and a vital part of the like of the nation. Mr Hunter said he saw no problem with the dress code of the journalists who covered the meeting.

"But to specify what should be worn is going too far. The chiefs should be treated with due respect- but perhaps they should be asked what they would prefer," he said.

He said it was left to the journalists covering the meeting to dress appropriately and there was no briefing conducted at their office before the journalists leave for the meeting.

Fiji Broadcasting Commission Limited chief executive Francis Herman said they detested any attempts to prevent the media from speaking freely to members of the council or any other group.

"Placing such restrictions must be opposed as it is infringing the independence of the media to freely seek information from other sources apart from officials of the council," he said.

He said they fully endorsed the issue of dress code and have always urged journalists to ensure they observe cultural sensitive in their line of work.

Mr Herman said they believed that members of the media should understand and dress appropriately to such gatherings irrespective of the ethnicity of the meetings.

"The GCC is a revered body, the decision to have its code of conduct may work towards the needs of such body, as long as it does not compromise the freedom of speech on both side the GCC members and we as journalists. "Wearing appropriate dress outfit, is a requirement in our organisation, we are the face of the company whether we are working internally or assigned to an external task outside FBC," he said.

On Wednesday, Fijian Affairs media liaison officer Niumaia Gucake said the inappropriate dress code and behaviour of media personnel covering the Great Council of Chiefs meetings has prompted the Fijian Affairs Ministry to consider introducing a code of conduct for the profession.

Speaking to the journalists at the Tradewinds Convention centre, he said they were looking at drafting a code of conduct for journalists to abide by while covering such meetings.

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