Friday, November 30, 2012

Does UK's Leveson Report justify Bainimarama’s Fiji Media controls? Guarding the guardians - making the print media more publicly accountable.


Does UK's Leveson Report justify Bainimarama’s Fiji Media controls? Guarding the guardians - making the print media more publicly accountable.

Thesis by Thakur Ranjit Singh on content analysis of the Fiji Times between one year rule of Chaudhry Government (May 1999 to May 2000) showed that like the findings of Judge Leveson in UK, the Fiji Times also indulged in irresponsible, reckless and outrageous reporting that assisted in demise of democracy in Fiji.

In light of Rupert Murdoch’s (past owner of the Fiji Times) press scandal, Lord Justice Brian Leveson in Great Britain issued his 2,000-page report which effectively said that the self-regulatory Media Council-type arrangements by press (that Fiji had) was not reliable and workable. He ruled that Britain's unruly newspapers should be regulated by an independent body dominated by non-journalists with the power to levy steep fines.  Judge Leveson’s key recommendation was to create a new print media regulator, which he said should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by "outrageous" press behaviour that had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.” It was heard that newspapers had been guilty of "recklessness in prioritizing sensational stories almost irrespective of the harm the stories may cause." As a result it was essential to have a legally – instituted body that guards the guardians, as self-regulation was not acceptable.

Sensational and racially-divisive headlines of the Fiji Times that created animosity against Chaudhry Government in 1999 [Extract from the thesis]
It appeared that Judge Leveson had read Fiji’s media decree, putting controls and conditions of Fiji’s failed Fiji Media Council, which saw Murdoch’s Fiji Times sold to Motibhai Group. My research thesis “The 2000 Speight Coup in Fiji: An analysis of the role of The Fiji Times and the impact of a partisan media,” [http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2554]
 like Leveson report, also found many faults with Fiji’s influential and oldest newspaper, The Fiji Times (FT). There is little doubt that the analysis carried out in this research shows that FT did not operate like a responsible and more cautious media in a developing nation where the concept of democracy was still evolving and adjusting to a post-colonial phase and FT’s obsession with racial overtones in its stories divided the nation. All the good things about media being a uniting force were rarely seen in FT. If anything, FT lived to its colonial reputation of being anti-Indian since it was established in 1869. It also displayed traits characteristic of the Propaganda Model where FT was seen to be protecting the interest of the Fijian political elite and the business community. While no proof has come to light to substantiate allegations that some sections of the business community contributed to the fall of the Chaudhry’s People’s Coalition Government, my research indicates enough motives for that to be so and why the majority Gujarati business community wished to see Chaudhry go.

Russell Hunter who was at the helm of the Fiji Timed when Chaudhry Government came to power. Netani Rika trained under him. Hunter's work permit was refused by Chaudhry Government and this created much animosity with the Fiji Times. [Extract from Thakur thesis]
In light of conditions placed by the new Media decree, an interesting feature has been the departure of Murdoch’s News Limited from Fiji and FT’s purchase by the Motibhai Group. What is interesting here is the media ownership which now largely rests in the hands of those people who were accused and suspected of supporting the divisive elements and the ethno-nationalists in the removal of the People’s Coalition Government which was shifting towards a socialistic trend. Fiji’s business Indian community, the Gujarati community now controls almost 90 per cent of Fiji’s print media. C.J. Patel (who featured in my thesis analysis), with Vinod Patel, owns Fiji Sun, while, the Motibhai Group now owns FT. Hari Punja , who also featured in the analysis, has shares in the radio broadcasting group, Communications Fiji Limited. With some of the elites now in control of Fiji media which FT was seen to be protecting, have ended up controlling the Fiji media. This new balance in ownership, coupled with the new media decree would provide rich fodder for an ongoing research to gauge the transition of Fiji media into a “real” Third World media: A Third World media for a Third World nation.

Ken Clark, CEO of Fiji TV in 1999, when his work permit also created controversy with Chaudhry. [Extract from Thakur thesis]
My content analysis of the Fiji Times found many faults with the oldest Fiji media and cited cases of sensational reporting, recklessness and irresponsible behaviour. Among many others, there appeared to be a double standard of scrutiny and criticism of different governments by FT. Its zeal and so called investigative prowess in unearthing scandals and indulging in muckraking were seen to be inversely comparable when reporting on Chaudhry’s “Indian” government and Qarase’s “Fijian” government respectively. While the objective of my thesis was not to determine this question, the difference was so marked that at least three cases showed FT’s favourable stance to a “Fijian” government. These included appointments of a disbarred lawyer, Qoriniasi Bale as Fiji’s Attorney General, non renewal of work permit of Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Ridgway and paying little media scrutiny to Simione Kaitani’s admission of the criminal offence of sedition on the national TV programme Close Up. [This issue to be covered later in Fiji Pundit]. These examples bring into question FT’s media ethics and its claims of being an independent, neutral and free media, as Leveson found the British media.

Other racially-divisive and sensational news coverage and headlines by the Fiji Times [Extract from Thakur thesis]

Therefore controls brought about by Bainimarama government to shackle irresponsible media through media controls are similar in respects about call by Leveson for a more responsible media in Great Britain.

[Full thesis of Thakur Ranjit Singh: The 2000 Speight Coup in Fiji: An analysis of the role of The Fiji Times and the impact of a partisan media can be found at this link:  http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2554]