Government is enjoying a “honeymoon” period with the media, says Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal.

As one of the panelists during an event marking World Press Freedom Day at University of the South Pacific (USP) Wednesday, Lal said the repeal of the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) 2010 had led to the media industry being free from the restrictive legislation.

However, he noted that Fiji in particular had a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other — and in the case of the media, noted that every administration in the past had tried to regulate the media in one way or the other.

“The new Government is currently having this honeymoon period with the media,” he said.

“It’s good but we’ll see how the relationship evolves as time progresses. That’s one of the things to be mindful of as things progress and also, we’ll see how that happens.

“There’s almost every administration and Government that has attempted to regulate the media, Chaudhry, Qarase in 2004 but all these moves were met with fierce opposition.

“MIDA though, that was introduced by the Bainimarama Government, was thrust upon the industry with little room to reject the restrictive law.”

Meanwhile, Legislation like the Public Order Act and seditious provisions in the Crimes Act still pose risks to the freedom and operation of media organisations in the country.

This was highlighted by the United Nations Human Rights (UNOCHR) Pacific regional representative Heike Alefsen while speaking at a World Press Freedom Day event at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva.

She said there were positive developments that should be acknowledged and commended, such as Fiji taking its first steps towards protecting media freedom by repealing the Media Industry Development Act (2010).

“However, there is much to be done to provide a truly enabling environment for a free and uncensored media and journalism in Fiji,” she said.

“There remains a number of restrictive laws that needs to be reviewed such as the seditious provisions in the Crimes Act and Online Safety Act as well as the Public Order Act.

“Globally, there are new problems – surveillance through technology which also poses risks to journalists’ work. Rising use of surveillance tools — such as the Pegasus or Candiru spyware — intrudes deeply into people’s devices and lives.

“Such tools are an affront to the right to privacy and an obstruction to freedom of expression. To counter these risks, journalists are often forced to take the dangerous path of self-censorship and this affects right to full information and expression.”

Alefsen said freedom of expression was not an absolute right, and it must be balanced against other important values, such as the protection of national security and public order, and the prevention of incitement to violence.

“It is important to recognise that restrictions on freedom of expression must be necessary, proportionate, and prescribed by law.”

USP head of Journalism Dr Shailendra Singh said the fight for media freedom was continuous as there were always new challenges on the horizon.

“I think World Press Freedom Day is a very important occasion and it’s a reminder of news media organisations and the work that journalists do and it’s crucial that we recognise this every year, in a country like Fiji,” he said.

“As you know, we had in place the Media Industry Development Act, which was quite restrictive in many ways and that had a major negative impact on journalism.

“The fact that the MIDA legislation is no more doesn’t mean the media is totally free. There’s other legislation that still pose a risk to journalists and there’s also some responsibility on the part of media sector, with regards to media freedom.”

He said the responsibility did not fall solely on Government, but also on journalists and the media sector to continuously seek to improve how they practise journalism.

“We always have to try to be getting our act together as well because if we don’t get our act together, then we become our own worst enemy and we also become very vulnerable to the Government wanting to impose regulation,” he said.