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Free Media Fosters Vibrant Democracy, Says MIDA Chair

Free Media Fosters Vibrant Democracy, Says MIDA Chair
Chairman of Fiji's Media Industry Development Authority and Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRC), Ashwin Raj (left) with Fijian politician and Speaker of the Parliament of Fiji Dr Tiko Luveni(left) at the PACMAS Parliamentary workshop yesterday.Photo:VILIMONI VAGANALAU.
April 22
12:30 2016

 

A free, responsible, accountable and robust media is critical in fostering a culture of deep and deliberative democracy, says Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) chairman Ashwin Raj.

Speaking at MIDA/Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS)-organised Parliamentary Reporting Training for local journalists, Mr Raj said no country guaranteed unfettered freedom without responsibility and Fiji was no exception.

The joint MIDA/PACMAS initiative is being led by trainer Steve Chase, a veteran ABC political and parliamentary reporter and commentator. He is author of “You Didn’t Get It From Me”, a book on reporting on politics and parliament.

Mr Raj told participants at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel, Suva: “Unlike many other constitutional jurisdictions that deem the guaranteeing of freedom of speech, expression and publication to entail implicitly freedom of the press, the Fijian Constitution through its Bill of Rights, unequivocally recognises freedom of the press as pivotal in the materialisation of freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication.”

He said limitations to freedom of speech, expression and publication in the Constitution on the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in its Bill of Rights were in consonance with the General RecAommendation number 35 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on Combating Racist Hate Speech.

“The State is constitutionally obliged to make provisions for the enforcement of media standards and the regulation, registration and conduct of media organizations.

“Freedom of the press must not be reduced to simply the freedom of journalists, editors or proprietors alone. Rather it is an embodiment of the public’s right to know and participate in the flow of information or the democratisation of the flow of information,” he said.

“This is why a strong statutory framework is important in creating an environment that protects the rights of the media while ensuring that public interest and individual rights are not impinged upon by the activities of a free media.”

Mr Raj raised the need to recognise the media was an important conduit between the public and the parliament in facilitating the flow of information between citizens and their elected representatives and governments and critical in cultivating the habits of democracy through the exercise of reason.

“So both the media and parliament play a critical role in enfranchising the public.”

He said the Parliament must respect the right of individuals and particularly the media to criticise its role, integrity and performance but this must be balanced with the need for a responsible media that did not interfere or derail parliament’s ability to perform its core functions.

“Parliamentary access and the entering the protocols of the parliament, therefore, are extremely important,” he said.

“It is incumbent that the Parliament provides necessary access as well as sufficient information to the media.

“This also calls for the development of professional and ethical standards for journalists and integral to this is the media’s responsibility in ensuring that their own prejudices, ideological dispositions and political proclivities do not interfere with their ability to report accurately.

“I am pleased to note that Fiji enjoys live coverage of parliamentary proceedings. Access to a plurality of perspectives is important in ensuring that dissenting and minority voices are heard and protected.

“The dissonance between the public and the political world can only be addressed if there is trust between the politicians and those who convey their actions to the public- the media. Both sides have an important responsibility in this.

“Steps must also be taken to raise the standard of parliamentary debate by encouraging a better awareness of the role and the needs of the media, by discouraging unruly behavior, abusive language and personal attacks in parliament which inevitably results in adverse coverage.

“The media can and must play an important role in fostering cohesion rather than profiting from political divisions.

“The media must enter the protocols of the parliament and become intimate with procedures and policies including the codes regulating the press gallery”.

Edited by Manasa Kalouniviti

Feedback:  arieta.vakasukawaqa@fijisun.com.fj

 

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