Fiji’s 2010 Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) Act has been repealed by Parliament Friday despite fierce debate from the Opposition parliamentarians.
While presenting the motion in Parliament on Monday pursuant to Standing Order 51, Fiji’s Attorney-General Siromi Turaga said the Bill to repeal the existing Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) 2010 meant that freedom of expression would be assured for members of the media fraternity in the country.
“The MIDA 2010 amongst other things regulates the ownership, registration and content of media organisations in Fiji,” Turaga said.
He said the repeal of MIDA did not mean that media organisations and reporters could report on anything and everything without having authentic sources and facts.
The debate was limited to one hour only with six speakers registering their interest to participate in the debate – Opposition MP Premila Kumar, Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Filimoni Vosarogo, Opposition MP Viliame Naupoto, Deputy PM and Minister for External Trade Manoa Kamikamica, Opposition MP Faiyaz Koya and Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad.
The Bill was passed after a vote: 29 for the motion, 21 against and three did not vote.
Speaking in Parliament before the vote, Communication Minister and deputy Prime Minister Manoa Kamikamica said the MIDA act is the worst thing to have happened to freedom of the media in Fiji.
He read a statement from the Fijian Media Association (FMA).
“The origins of the MIDA Act began after the 2006 coup that brought a reign of terror, violence, intimidation, censorship, and fear to the country’s media industry. Journalists were beaten, detained, and threatened, their media businesses burned, offices trashed, and houses firebombed.
“Media workers that were attacked in some way included Pita Ligaiula, Dionisia Turagabeci, Anish Chand, Merana Kitione, Leone Cabenatabua, Maika Bolatiki, Netani Rika, Sophie Foster, Imraz Iqbal, Samisoni Pareti, Apisalome Coka, Maikeli Radua, the late Sitiveni Moce…among many others,” Kamikamica told Parliament.
He said government advertising was taken away from media organisations the government did not like and senior journalists and editors were forced out of their jobs.
A public emergency regulation in 2009 enforced unprecedented and dictatorial censorship, and government officers entered newsrooms to force journalists to only report what the government wanted, he said.
“The censorship then morphed into the 2010 Media decree and then the MIDA Act which has caused uncertainty, stress, mental anguish, and threatened the survival and livelihoods of many media businesses. Some of Fiji’s best journalists left the industry as a result and the media still carry the mental scars today from that very disturbing period.
“Neither the previous government nor a single member of the public has ever used the MIDA Tribunal to complain about the media, and there has been no media development under MIDA. It was a useless, but dangerous and vindictive piece of legislation for the industry,” said Kamikamica.
Kamikamica said the repeal of the MIDA Act has long been a unifying demand of all media organisations in Fiji.
“No government, including this Peoples Coalition government should ever be given such power over the media. We need to return to the media freedom Fiji enjoyed and was renowned for prior to 2006. The MIDA experiment is over and the draconian legislation now belongs in the dustbins of history,” said Kamikamica.
Minister for Lands Filimoni Vosarogo while contributing to the debate on the bill to repeal the MIDA Act 2010, highlighted that MIDA curtailed media freedom.
He said it is a day of celebration for the whole nation and brings an end to the dark era of media censorship in the country.
Vosarogo said government begun favouring the Fiji Sun and the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation and says some of the senior journalists were forced out of their jobs.
He said today they intend to return Fiji to the light where there will be freedom for the media.
The Minister said MIDA never advanced media freedom as they couldn’t publish anything that is against national interest under section 24.
Vosarogo said who decides what is in the national interest or not.
Opposition MPs showed strong resistance towards the move to repeal the Media Industry Development Authority Act of 2010.
FijiFirst MP Premila Kumar and Viliame Naupoto were two of the first Opposition MPs to debate against the motion.
Kumar claims that the previously existing Media Council was not independent.
The former Minister for Education claims that repealing the act will mean operating standards are thrown out the window.
“This Act has many relevant section to ensure that high media standards are maintained. For example, their schedule 1 to 4 on the media code and ethics, the general code for advertisements, the code of advertising to children and the television program classification code Repealing the Act means all these standards are thrown out the window.”
Kumar suggests keeping the Act but amending sections to strike a balance between absolute media freedom and absolute control of the media by the government.
Following suit, FijiFirst MP Viliame Naupoto said too much influence by the media is bad for democracy.
The former military commander claims that diversity of opinion is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, and he claims that this does not exist in Fiji as everything is about government.
He claims that repealing the Act is a grave mistake for democracy, as he opposes the motion.
Fijian Media Association (FMA) General Secretary, Stanley Simpson said the Opposition embarrassed themselves today in their debate on the repeal of MIDA.
“Some of it was shameful. Regardless – the media will keep reporting their views and stand ready to work with them as the country needs a strong robust Opposition. This is a new era and we need to move forward together to strengthen our democracy.
“Media freedom comes with responsibility and the media will commit to stand by our Code of Ethics and the principles of fair, balanced and accurate reporting. We thank the Government for seeing this through for the people and for having the strength to subject themselves to question and scrutiny without the power of a vindictive MIDA,” Simpson said in a Facebook Post.
SOURCE: PACNEWS/FIJI TIMES/FBC NEWS