The Fijian media industry has strongly called on the coalition government to repeal the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA)which first came as a decree in 2010, and stick to the promise they made during the campaign period.

In a submission signed by Communications Fiji Limited Chair William Parkinson, Fiji TV Limited Chair Deepak Rathod, Fiji Times Limited General Manager Christine Lyons and Fijian Broadcasting Corporation(FBC) Limited General Manager Tarun Patel, the media organisations say they cannot see the need to separately register the media and it appears to be based on the practice of registering newspapers that dates back to the 19th century.

They say all media organisations are already registered as legal entities, like most businesses, as incorporated companies both public and private.

They say any attempt to separately register media organisations opens the possibility of intimidation through potential deregistration.

The organisations further say the cross media ownership provision appears to be out of date and the current reality is that all media organisations are already cross media entities with online presence in various forms.

They say by removing this restriction, it will free up all media organisations to fully achieve their potential increasing, not decreasing, competition to the benefit of the readers, listeners and viewers.

The organisations also say that at a time when Fiji is actively seeking new investment, they cannot understand why the Fiji media industry should be denied the opportunity to attract foreign investment.

They say if the industry is to grow and develop, foreign investment both in terms of capital funds and knowledge is critical.

The organisations say the media industry has faced, over the last 16 years, unprecedented political interference and control and they are desperate to get on with the task of rebuilding the industry and profession and this can only start with repealing the Media Industry Development Act.

Consultation on the Draft Media Bill which was partly drafted by prominent lawyer, Richard Naidu ended at around midday today, with majority of the speakers wanting a total repeal of the media legislation and replaced by the Fiji Media Council.

As an industry, the organisations are committed to the reformation of the Fiji Media Council, which will once again provide independent community-driven accountability over the Fiji media.

Lawyer Richard Naidu said the Fiji Media Council was much about regulating the content, but the draft bill makes no reference to regulating the content of any media.

Naidu said the consultation is vital.

He said the media council helps the public, who are aggrieved by anything that appears in the media and upsets them; however, he said the intention is that the government will not try to regulate content in any way, which is vital for freedom of speech.

Solicitor General, Ropate Green said the consultation phase is important as they will take the public submissions to cabinet for the final decision before any bill goes to parliament.

Green also said they understand how the Media Industry Development Decree came into place in 2010 without consultation, encouraged the participation of the public to get the best outcome.

Meanwhile, the new media legislation proposed by the coalition government is aiming to preserve the elements of media ownership regulation and registration contained in the current Media Industry Development Act for now while eliminating the restrictive and draconian content regulation provisions of the Act.

In the case of every media organisation registered under the Act, the editor must be ordinarily resident in Fiji; and at least 90 percent of its ultimate beneficial ownership must be held by citizens of Fiji who are ordinarily resident in Fiji.

If a media organisation is at any time in breach of this for a period of more than 30 days, that media organisation and every ultimate beneficial owner of the media organisation commits an offence punishable, in the case of a natural person, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 (US$5,000) and in the case of a company, to a fine not exceeding $50,000(US$25,000).

The draft Bill further states that a media organisation may only operate a media service using one medium, and where a person or an associate of that person has ultimate beneficial ownership in any one media organisation, that person may hold ultimate beneficial ownership in only one other media organisation operating in a different medium, not exceeding five percent of the total ultimate beneficial ownership of that media organisation. The cross media law does not apply to a media organisation in which the State owns a majority shareholding.

In this case, only the state owned broadcaster, FBC continues to enjoy the cross media exemption as allowed in the current Media Industry Development Act where the government owned entity is operating radio and television stations.

The Bill said the operation by a news organisation of websites or social media pages shall not be considered a “different medium” if such websites or social media pages comprise or support a media service of that media organisation or contain substantially the same content as that media service.

Any media organisation or any person in breach of any provisions of this part shall be liable on summary conviction in the case of a natural person to a fine not exceeding $10,000(US$5,000) and in the case of a company to a fine not exceeding $100,000(US$50,000).

The draft Media Bill also said no media organisation or officer of a media organisation which is a public listed company shall be liable for the offence if that person proves to the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the person had no actual knowledge of any matter in relation to the sections comprising a breach of the Act.

The proposed law said it is fair to say that even the ownership regulation and registration provisions contained in the Bill may be viewed as unnecessary or even restrictive.

It said whether these provisions remain in future is a matter for wider consultation.

The proposed law said the principal purpose of retaining the registration requirements is to ensure that mainstream media organisations remain legally accountable as such; and that anyone wishing to take legal action against them (whether in civil proceedings for defamation or any criminal proceedings) is able to ascertain from the public record (and the organisations’ own websites if any) the persons who are legally responsible for publication of any impugned content.

It said this reflects the purpose of the old Newspaper Registration Act (Cap. 106) which was repealed by the Act (but whose elements were retained in the Act).

It further said changes to cross-ownership rules belong to the wider consultation process.