Fiji's media decree to stay
Fiji's controversial media decree stays after parliament voted against any modification as suggested by the opposition.
An opponent of Fiji's controversial media decree says while it's still in place, it will be like a noose around the neck of the media industry there.
A motion to review the Media Industry Development Decree was defeated in Parliament last week.
The bill's author, the National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad, says it seriously undermines media freedom.
Nicole Pryor reports.
The president of the Fiji Media Association, Ricardo Morris, says though the motion failed, at the very least, it generated discussion about the issue.
It's not a great surprise that the motion was defeated, but at least it brought the issue to the public's attention through Parliament, and that it was debated in an open forum, despite the outcome.
Mr Morris, who is also the editor and publisher of Republika Magazine, says a lot more people are becoming aware of how important media freedom is.
He says though the government has not fined or imprisoned anyone for breaching the decree, it still looms large.
One of the major concerns is the fines that are hanging over our heads...not just for media companies and publishers and editors, but also ordinary journalists are at risk of fines ranging from $10,000 upwards, so it's very hard to find someone willing to risk breaching the decree and copping a fine.
The National Federation Party leader, Dr Biman Prasad, says one statement from the government could be viewed as a glimmer of hope.
One of the things that the government said was that none of the media's draconian measures have been used against journalists - some journalists and media organisations could take that to heart and move away from some of the self-censorship that's been going on.
But in 2013, The Fiji Times was fined $US148,000 dollars, not under the Decree but under contempt of court rules, for re-publishing a New Zealand article that questioned the credibility of Fiji's judiciary.
And Dr Prasad says the threat continues to be felt by journalists and editors.
As long as the draconian measures remain, it will be like a noose around the neck of the journalists and the media organisations and editors and publishers, so i guess we will have to continue to highlight those issues.
The decree set up the Media Industry Development Authority, a body which has the power to enforce it, and investigate possible violations.
Its chairman, Ashwin Raj, says news outlets need to navigate around the law.
Exclusive focus on penal liabilities alone is counter-productive...we should think about other productive ways in which we can work around things that we deem regressive.
Critics of the decree say provisions such as the requirement for balance are being used as a tactic by the government to shut down negative stories - so if it decides to not give a response, the story doesn't get published.
But Mr Raj says he stands by his comment that editors need to push back, and use the constitution if needs be.
As a media you show the members of the public that you've done the right thing, you've approached all these actors in the interests of being balanced and fair, so that nobody can complain later on that look, this implicated us and we didn't get the right of reply' and so on and so forth, and you've exhausted all these avenues.
Mr Raj says though there needs to be some regulation of the media, it should not be muzzled.
Ashwin Raj declined to say whether he could foresee a future without the decree in Fiji, but says for now, the media should test its boundaries.
But for journalists like Ricardo Morris, flirting with experimentation could come at too high a cost.
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