Amendments To Fiji Media Industry Decree Proposed

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Less liability for journalists; publishers, editors still face fines, jail

By Tevita Vuibau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 10, 2015) – Publishers and editors of news companies in Fiji will continue to face the brunt of punishment for offences under the amended Media Industry Development Decree 2010.

The motion to amend the decree was filed by Attorney-General and Minister for Communications Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

The new amendments remove fines and prison sentences previously imposed on individual journalists if they were found to be non-compliant with the decree by the Media Tribunal.

However, opposition members say the amendment may result in publishers, editors and media company directors reigning in reporters and spiking stories for fear of being fined.

Under the amended decree, journalists are no longer liable for prison sentences and fines of up to $1000 [US$470] if they are found guilty of an offence by the Media Tribunal. The fines for editors and publishers still remain at a figure not exceeding $25,000 [US$11,744] while media organisations are also still liable for fines not exceeding $100,000 [US$47,000].

But while the opposition expressed approval for the amendment, they also expressed concern at the practical application of the amendments.

"Media outlets are commercial entities and if there is a risk of journalists working for these media entities, writing stories that are not kosher to the powers that be, that would mean that media owners, through editors and publishers, would put an end to those stories," Roko Tupou Draunidalo said.

She said the fines of $25,000 and $100,000 were no small amounts but added the real worry for big media outlets was the threat of prison time.

Reacting to the news yesterday, Fiji TV CEO Geoffrey Smith said the news came as a huge sigh of relief for journalists.

"I think it used to be something where we always looked over our shoulders in terms of reporting freely. I think there are a few challenges there but I think we as journalists can report freely and fairly in the environment we are in."

He said editors and publishers simply needed to drive the message of neutrality, fairness and balance to reporters.

Mr Smith also gave assurances that he would not stop reporters pursuing stories under any circumstances.

[PIR editor’s note: RNZI reported that ‘Fiji's Citizen's Constitutional Forum (CCF) has welcomed the amendments, saying they are encouraging for journalists and media rights and freedoms. ... However, it says says a climate of censorship still remains in Fiji.’]

The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley said it was a positive move by the Government.

"This is the first positive step forward and hopefully it should reflect in young journalists being allowed to do their work without fear," Wesley said.

"But obviously the fact that huge fines still hang over the heads of publishers and editors is a challenge that we will have to face."

Fijian Holdings Ltd CEO Nouzab Fareed shared similar statements saying journalists should be able to do their job without fear.

He said if they reported the truth they should not worry.

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