A great day for the Fiji media industry as years of enduring harsh media laws is finally over.
Fiji Times Pte Ltd general manager Christine Lyons summed up the mood at the company after the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) was repealed by majority vote in Parliament Thursday.
“It is a great day for all media companies and journalists in Fiji as MIDA was hanging over the heads of journalists, editors and managers,” she said.
“We are delighted and thank the Coalition Government for living up to their word and protecting the rights and freedom of journalists and the media industry.”
Lyons also paid tribute to everyone in the industry for their endurance and resilience over the past 12 years, but stressed it was important to remain committed to upholding the values of good journalism.
“The repealing of this Act empowers the media to continue playing its role in society as the fourth estate.”
The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley said he was relieved and emotional, considering the number of challenges the newspaper had gone through for 16 years.
“Today is a great day to be a journalist in Fiji,” he said.
“We have shrugged off the monkey on our back! A lot going through my mind, but very thankful.”
Wesley thanked all those who had stuck with the profession despite the huge challenges.
“Those in the newsrooms, our sources who were willing to test authority and stand up to it, our family members and loved ones who stood by our side, and all our readers and followers for their support.
“Many of them gave us the motivation and the courage to do our jobs. I reflect on the years gone by and look forward with great optimism.
“This is good for the media and is especially good for our nation.”
According to Wesley, as a pillar of democracy, the media also had an important role to play in not only disseminating information to the masses, but also holding those in power to account.
“For those who are probably not aware of the important turn of events, you could say it is about enforced suppression and selective dissemination of information against freedom of expression! “This is one for the ages!”
FijiFirst MPs maintained a strong resistance to the repeal of the Media Industry Development (Repeal) Act.
Former ministers Premila Kumar, Viliame Naupoto and Faiyaz Koya argued that MIDA was essential to protect the citizens of the country.
They said media freedom should not be absolute, and that countries such as New Zealand and Australia each had their own mechanisms in place to regulate the media.
In response, Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad said members of Opposition were all benefactors of a dictatorship.
Prasad urged members of Opposition to stop insulting the media.
“I mean, these are people who are responsible citizens, they too have children, they too have daughters, they too have families,” Prof Prasad said.
According to Kumar, consultations to repeal the Act should’ve been carried out with the consumers, as they were the target audience.
To explain her point, she presented an analogy that the Government’s consultation with the media industry was akin to going to the supermarket owners and asking them “what should be done about price control?”
“Or like going to prison and asking the inmates if bars and gates should be removed? Obviously they will choose to remove anything that is regulating them,” she said.
“Absolute media freedom in any jurisdiction is rare and even impossible.”
Naupoto argued the media was not just any other business because the media had the ability to influence the public.
“Too much influence from the media is bad for democracy,” he said, adding that this damaged democracy.
Koya, also insisted they had no “sinister” motive in introducing MIDA and said the Act was really “just regulatory”.
He also claimed there was interference in the media today.
“We don’t get a single minute of air time, which is fine,” he said.
“We don’t but we’re not whingeing and complaining and crying, we get on with the job. I believe that is this merely to accommodate their 100-day promise.”
Government also assured those present in Parliament that laws were still in place to take up any grievances against media organisations.
Attorney-General Siromi Turaga said redress was available through the existing legislation such as the Defamation Act 1971, the Online Safety Act 2018 and the Crimes Act 2009.
“In fact, my predecessor (Aiyaz) Sayed-Khaiyum during his term as A-G instituted committal proceedings against Fiji Times Ltd regarding the publication of an article,” he said.
“The matter was appealed at the Supreme Court, however, it does not negate the fact that even with the Act in place, there are other avenues in which grievances against media organisations were addressed,” he said.
SOURCE: FIJI TIMES/PACNEWS