SUVA (Pacific Media Watch / Radio New Zealand International / Radio Australia): Fiji's media authority plans to keep a tight rein on political reporting of the upcoming general election due by the end of September.
Samisoni Pareti of Radio Australia said today in an interview with Pacific Beat that the Fijian Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) had announced it would set up a new "media monitoring unit", which would "measure any particular media organisation's so-called bias for or against a particular political organisation".
It is not clear whether the new unit would be able to sanction journalists whose reporting it does not like, but Pareti said it would be safe to assume that the unit's work would be governed by the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree, which prescribes penalties such as fines for journalists.
Ashwin Raj, chairman of MIDA, also "took offence again to freelance journalists", according to Pareti, describing them as a law unto themselves.
Raj also re-emphasised that three journalists - Sean Dorney (Australia), Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field (both New Zealand) - were still banned from Fiji.
Raj said he would recommend to the government of Fiji that another ABC journalist, Campbell Cooney, be banned too.
Dorney was the subject of a recent seven-page complaint by MIDA about alleged bias in a report on the recent Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) regional media summit.
MIDA director Matai Akauola told Radio New Zealand International yesterday that because Dorney had brought "disrepute to the government", the Fijian government would suspend all collaboration with the ABC and PACMAS [Pacific Media Assistance Scheme] until an official retraction had been received.
Michael Field, Fairfax New Zealand's Pacific correspondent and one of the first journalists to be banned from Fiji, told Radio Australia that the planned new media monitoring unit was totally farcical.
"What we're looking at now is a Fiji media that is so remote from any sort of concept of free and fair media, that it's insulting to even try and offer any other suggestion that it is representative of open and fair democracy and media," he said.
"It is a joke, this group, this MIDA group seems to be totally about control and dictation and order and you will stay out of this country, we're afraid of you, we've controlled the local media, the local media is totally compliant and foreign journalists can't be trusted," Field said.
He added that MIDA's attempt to control Fijian freelance journalists who worked for overseas news outlets was worrying.
"There are a small and sadly diminishing group of journalists in Fiji who are trying to offer what the rest of us in the planet regard as free and fair journalism ...I read, for example, that this group is opposed to the way in which these freelance journalists are talking about the dengue fever epidemic, because it apparently reflects poorly on Fiji and the tourist industry," Field said.
The Pacific Journalism Review has previously reported that media freedom in Fiji was "fragile" because of the military regime.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.