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Western way not best way for Fiji

May 01
11:04 2012

Some of the participants in the Pacific Islands News Association’s Pacific Media Summit.

OPINION
By THAKUR RANJIT SINGH

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator with a masters in Communication Studies from AUT, New Zealand.
He is former publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post newspaper and currently heads Media Relations Limited which is a public relations, event management and communications company.
Research thesis on analysis of the Fiji Times is available on the link: http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2554]

I wish to mark this World Media Freedom Day (Thursday, 3 May) with reference to a fruitful Pacific Islands News Associating (PINA) meeting held at Pacific Habour in March and the need for Fiji for its own home-grown model of media.
The PINA meeting in Fiji heralded a great future for a united media organisation in the Pacific.
When time is ripe, Pacific people have a lively scrap, but there are occasions when they unite.
This was one such occasion where the hitherto divided media people in the Pacific buried their hatchets and came out as a united force.
Veteran Tongan publisher, Kalafi Moala led that conciliatory approach.
It was timely other Pacific countries appreciated Fiji’s unique problems and why it was not buying wholesale the western concept of media freedom.

The questions over
The Fiji Times model

In light of the  Media Industry Development Decree 2010 and subsequent sale of The Fiji Times to Motibhai group, I was pleasantly surprised to be approached by a Fiji reporter on supposed rumours that the former publisher of Daily Post, Thakur Ranjit Singh was to be appointed publisher of the new Fiji Times.
I would have considered the position had I been approached.
This would have been additionally appropriate as I had just completed a research on the content analysis of this newspaper which revealed its partisan approach and its contribution to the fall of Chaudhry’s government in 2000.
The Fiji Times was in Fiji a decade before the arrival of my forbears, the first Indian ‘coolies” in 1879.
Successive academics and writers have recorded heart-tearing atrocities against defenceless, innocent and vulnerable indentured labourers.
However, as a tool of colonisers, chiefs, elites and businesses, the Fiji Times never saw any human rights breaches as seen and reported by numerous others.
Generally, free media in civilised democracies are seen as the last bastion of democracy.
However, we have a unique and unprecedented case in Fiji where its oldest and most powerful media, the Fiji Times, remains accused of doing the complete the opposite – contributing to political instability and fall of democracy.
As its home-grown and overseas-educated publisher, I would have been in a distinct position to “exorcise” its old ghosts and past “evils”.
Just weeks ago, I was again pleasantly surprised to be approached by a final year journalism student from University of the South Pacific (USP), seeking my insight on media freedom and the model suited for Fiji, in light of my research.
This made my day, as at least somebody in Fiji was interested in my research and the failings of unsuitable “western-style” conflict journalism.
My research had shown that Fiji as a Third World country, had media which was trying to emulate a First World press.
As a multiracial country with a lopsided racial composition of media gatekeepers and newsrooms, Fiji was not ready for First World media freedom.
Since its independence in 1970 and notably after Rabuka’s coup in 1987, Fiji media failed to live to the expectations of a free media. Fiji media owners, editors and reporters failed to unite a racially-fragmented developing nation.
Bruce Hill of Radio Australia who had attended the PINA conference in Deuba, was unpleasantly surprised to see he had no scrap to report on, and hence subsequently went on agenda-setting of  discrediting PINA, ably supported by Dr Marc Edge, co-ordinator of the School of Journalism at USP.
Perhaps Dr Edge needs to take a lecture from Professor David Robie, head of Pacific Media Centre and former head of journalism at USP, on peace journalism, on better understanding of press in the Pacific, non-suitability of western-style conflict journalism in Fiji and how to utilise the potential capability of USP’s journalism school.
Dr Edge’s assertion that a form of development communication was not suitable for Fiji shows his lack of depth about underlying media problems in Fiji and the Pacific.

The Fiji model of
development journalism

Only after government’s media controls did media come in line from its habit of sensational divisive stories of racial conflicts. Multiracial Fiji, rife with racial conflicts and political opportunism, needs a form of development journalism that reports on positive people stories that unite us rather than the divisive ones.
Change is difficult to implement at newsroom levels, therefore it has to commence in journalism schools where budding journalists are exposed to issues in cross-cultural reporting. They are trained to appreciate the importance of widening the focus of journalism to the development role of journalists in a multicultural society.
They are taught to reflect sensitivity to cultural and political factors in reporting. Interaction with people and reporting from their point of view and perspectives provides better understanding of community, their needs and aspirations.
My research findings show how an irresponsible overseas-owned press failed in this respect, contributing to political instability in Fiji.
Fiji needs a home-grown model of media.
History and research show that one-size-fits-all is not an option.
Reporters have to feel part of the community where they change as well as bring change.
They are not mere neutral observers who remain unmoved and unchanged by what they see and write.
They are medium of change through informing people.
In other words, this model of journalism empowers people where assumption is that well informed citizens are well equipped to exercise their rights and duties as citizens in meaningful ways.
Fiji media lacked this principle.
The Fiji model would require journalists to place greater emphasis on inculcating multiracialism rather than freedom of expression.
In promoting fairness, justice and an understanding of cross-cultural relations, the journalist would indulge in self-censorship, and use their position to encourage and promote social and economic change that leads to a multicultural and economically developed society.

The models we
should look at

Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, in 1960s and 70s, looked at journalists as government partners in nation building, and this is the model which we need to emulate in Fiji.
It is not necessary for Fiji to copy unsuitable models that we have in developed countries.
We need tried models in developing multiracial countries which practised ‘controlled” journalism.
Fiji media fraternity, media educators and government need to discuss the best model suited for Fiji’s peaceful future and political stability. Since the First World model let us down, there is a crying need for a home-grown model that suits and addresses Fiji’s unique situation.
E-mail: thakurji@xtra.co.nz

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