‘A great day to be a journalist in Fiji’ as Parliament repeals ‘draconian’ media law

Fiji media

Journalists attended the historic voting at the Parliament of Fiji. Photo from the Facebook page of Pacific Islands News Association

On April 6, the Parliament of Fiji voted to repeal the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) which was enacted in 2010 by the government that assumed power through a coup in 2006.

The new coalition government that was formed after the December 2022 election has vowed to pursue reforms in media legislation, which included the review or repeal of MIDA.

Local journalists and media groups have criticized MIDA as a repressive tool of the previous government.

The statement of the Fijian Media Association (FMA), which was read during the Parliament session, highlighted the deleterious impact of MIDA on the local media environment:

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.

The repeal of the MIDA Act has long been a unifying demand of all media organizations in Fiji. No government, including this Peoples Coalition government should ever be given such power over the media.

During the session, Minister for Communications Hon. Manoa Kamikamica read out the names of journalists who were either harassed or charged by authorities for alleged violations of the MIDA, as this tweet by a journalist shows:

FMA added that “the MIDA experiment is over and the draconian legislation now belongs in the dustbins of history.”

In an earlier statement, FMA cited how repressive provisions of the MIDA undermined media freedom

The excessive fines hanging over the heads of the media organisations and editors were threatening, not conducive to media freedom, and designed to be vindictive, punish and control the media rather (than) encourage better reporting standards.

Another journalist recalled on Twitter how the government in 2010 used the repressive media law to intimidate newsrooms.

After the voting in Parliament, Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley exclaimed, “Today is a great day to be a journalist in Fiji.”

He later wrote an editorial linking MIDA to the decline of democracy in Fiji.

How could you ignore that with massive fines and a jail term hanging over your head daily? Because there was no clear explanation about what constituted a breach, editors faced the very real possibility of someone somewhere using the Act against them.

It certainly wasn’t fashionable standing against the government then, raising niggling issues that made those in power look bad. The people do not need absolute control by the government. They don’t need suppressed information either.

Islands Business Magazine editor Samantha Magick explained how the repeal of MIDA will inspire more critical media reporting in Fiji

Fiji's media will see more investigations, more depth, more voices, different perspectives, [and] hopefully they can engage a bit more as well without fear.

It'll just be so much healthier for us as a people and democracy to have that level of debate and investigation and questioning, regardless of who you are.

But the previous ruling party said the passage of MIDA was necessary to protect public interest. Former minister Premila Kumar also questioned why legislators consulted the media about the MIDA repeal bill.

(It is) 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.

Absolute media freedom in any jurisdiction is rare and even impossible.

Deputy Prime Minister Biman Prasad reminded the new opposition about the importance of repealing MIDA.

Sometimes I think the opposition can’t even understand their own interest today. They are so used to being in government and muzzling the media can’t see that the repealing of the act will be beneficial for them, good for democracy and good for our people in this country.

The Attorney-General also assured the opposition and the public that they can still seek redress against abuses through existing laws such as the Defamation Act 1971, Online Safety Act 2018 and the Crimes Act 2009.

FMA supports media self-regulation through the Fiji Media Council which is composed of media organizations and community representatives to process complaints and improve media standards.

The Pacific Islands News Association urged stakeholders to initiate discussions on the self-regulation of the media industry.

The onus is now on the media industry and related stakeholders to put in place proper independent mechanisms for the media to self-regulate and discharge their duties responsibly.

It also encouraged other Pacific governments to follow the lead of Fiji by removing restrictive media laws.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders placed Fiji in the 102nd position out of 180 countries. It was the worst rating for a Pacific nation.

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