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Singapore-style press control? Not in Fiji


My article comparing press control systems in Fiji and Singapore has now been published online by Sage and will be forthcoming in the April issue of the A-ranked journal International Communication Gazette, which is published out of the Netherlands. It is a revised version of a paper I presented at the 2011 Fiji Literary Festival. Here’s the abstract:

Constraints imposed on the press in Fiji under the 2010 Media Decree have been compared with the system of press control in Singapore. The two systems are, however, quite different. The type of hegemonic control that has been achieved in Singaporeis unlikely to be replicated in Fiji. The press in Singaporewas brought to heel over a period of decades through regulation, including licensing, and legal intimidation in a sophisticated system that utilizes corporate control to ensure that journalists exercise self-censorship. A military dictatorship in place in Fijisince 2006 instead criminalized journalism ethics in the Media Decree and has engaged in repression and censorship of journalists. Fiji’s press system, and the regime’s attempts to control it, were the subject of intense scrutiny in advance of elections planned for September 2014.

The thrust of the article is that those who liken the crude system of press control introduced by the 2010 Fiji Media Decree to the subtle and insidious system in Singapore are greatly mistaken. The government in Singapore has developed and continually tightened its grip on that country’s press over the past 40 years or so. Newspaper companies are required by the 1974 Newspaper and Printing Presses Act to trade shares on the stock exchange. A number of management shares are required to be held by the government, which as a result is entitled to appoint directors to the company’s board. The resulting top-down control has brought self-censorship which has been called ‘Singapore’s shame‘. The foreign press has been brought to heel by a series of economic disincentives to criticise the Singapore regime, including huge damage awards for libel awarded by a captive judiciary and the banning or limiting of circulation for offending publications.

Fiji, on the other hand, has simply criminalised the former code of ethics of the defunct Media Council, threatening fines and even jail sentences in the Media Decree for what were once ethical violations. Foreign journalists who dare to report critically on the regime, such as Michael Field and Sean Dorney, are simply banned from the country, which of course doesn’t prevent them from reporting critically. Censorship imposed under the Public Emergency Regulation has conditioned journalists to refrain from criticising the regime, and media outlets that do dare to question dictator Frank Bainimarama are dealt with harshly. Recent examples of that include the Fiji Times being hit with a $300,000 fine for reprinting a soccer story from New Zealand that included a comment from a FIFA official questioning the independence of Fiji’s judiciary, and Fiji TV being put on a series of six-month broadcasting licences (as opposed to the usually 12-years) under the TV Decree, which was imposed shortly after it aired interviews with two former prime ministers who questioned the need for a new constitution.

So how did the misconception arise that Fiji’s Media Decree was patterned after Singapore’s repressive press model? It likely began with the controversial 2008 Anthony Report, which urged that ‘wise restraints . . . be culled from the Singapore legislation on the establishment of a Media Development Authority.’ The dictator then called on the media to be more like the Singapore media, ‘not pro this Government or any government but pro-Fiji nation.’ Many thus assumed that the resulting Media Decree was patterned after Singapore’s system, and the myth was perpetuated by a Radio Australia interview. A comparison of the Media Decree with Singaporelegislation published in the Pacific Journalism Review concluded that ‘many of the sections were copied word-for-word’ from Singapore’s 2003 Media Development Act. The comparison, which was authored by a prominentFiji public relations executive while he was a graduate student atBondUniversity inAustralia, was correct as far as it went. It failed to apprehend, however, thatSingapore’s Media Development Act regulated only broadcasting and online media. Newspapers were regulated by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. How did that gaffe slip through the peer-review process? No wonder PJR is a B-ranked journal.


9 thoughts on “Singapore-style press control? Not in Fiji

  1. the media in Fiji has been cowered into submitting to the controls imposed on it by the Bainimarama military dictatorship.
    all its models are derived from anti -democratic regimes.
    the Bainimarama coup was patterned on the Pakistan model (Fiji Today)
    press restrictions were model on Singapore’s repressive media control laws.
    bullying the citizens was model on China’s police state
    union bashing was modeled on …

  2. The system of crude media control and general intimidation is based on the regime’s assumption that the vast majority of the population is a bunch of subservient cowards who enjoy to be fed crap by the media. This is sad but true. While Singapore is at least a giant success economically, Fiji will remain a basket case where only those prepared to kiss Khaiyum’s arse will prosper.

  3. the film The Pelican Brief (1993) was again screened here last night . Julia Roberts who acts the part of a law student uncovers a conspiracy. She tries to get to the bottom of it ( or, should that be to the top of it because top dogs are behind the conspiracy). A bureaucratic type tries to block her bid to obtain information at a State records office. Roberts asks her ” Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?”
    Her question reminded me that Fiji has no Freedom of Information Act. Past governments did not do it and the present government has not done it. Why would the present government – a military dictatorship – want to have a FOI act? A dictatorship is about repression, not freedom.
    Why would a government that has not released any Auditor-Generals report and has not told the people what salary the PM and the A-G is picking up bother with a FOI Act?
    The Pelican Brief is a 1993 film and if my memory serves me correctly I recall making internal departmental submissions on a draft Freedom of Information Act around that time when I was working as a public servant in Fiji.
    The political will was not there to give the FOI act the importance it deserved to ensure democratic, accountable governance in the country. The Act has apparently been pigeon holed.
    That is still the situation in Fiji on the eve of it becoming a “true democracy” via the vision of its current dictatorial ruler Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
    Perhaps Fiji will get a FOI Act after “true democracy” is installed.
    Will the coming elections do that?
    Or will we get the old regime in a new garb?

  4. The Sri lankan government of President Rajaphucksa claimed it was undertaking “reforms” to bring about true democracy in Sri Lanka and on the basis of that the Commonwealth granted Sri Lanka the right to host the Commonwealth club meeting last year.
    Today a landmark report was released which sheds new light on some of the worst alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the final stages of the Sri lankan civil war which ended in May 2009.
    The report, Island of impunity? Investigation into international crimes in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, was produced by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre(PIAC’s) International Crimes Evidence Project (ICEP).
    The report brings together some of the world’s leading experts on war crimes investigation and international law. It combines detailed, impartial,legal analysis and expert forensic and military analysis with new information and eye witness accounts.
    ‘This is the most comprehensive, evidence based report , investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sri lankan conflict’ said PIAC ceo Edward Santow.
    ‘The report builds on what we already know about indiscriminate artillery bombardment on civilian areas, the denial of humanitarian assistance to those most affected by the hostilities, and specific incidents of extrajudicial killings,torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearance’.
    The report will assist the UN Huam Rights Council in considering how to ensure accountability for allegations of atrocities committed . The report presents an evidentiary platform for an international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity.
    One new eye witness alleges that after the conflict the Sri Lankan Government systematically exhumed civil mass graves and destroyed crucial evidence of human remains.This has crucial implications for future investigations and highlights the need for urgent action to be taken.
    ‘ The ICEP investigation reveals some of the gravest crimes under international humanitarian law and demands accountability” said John Ralston chair of ICEP’s Committee of Experts. ‘This can only occur if there is a full,independent and impartial international investigation’.
    The Sri lankan government has rejected the call for such an investigation and has blocked all attempts for it to proceed.
    The Sri Lankan Government’s reluctance is understandable : They have a lot they want literally kept buried and hidden from any scrutiny.
    It makes one wonder how all the wise men in the Commonwealth managed to grant the Sri Lankan State the right to host a Commonwealth “democracy” club.
    There is nothing democratic about the Sri lankan State . It is a state that has conducted itself in a fascist manner and must be made accountable by the international community.
    ( This write up has been uplifted from PIAC’s webpage)

  5. what is the relevance of the Holocaust to Fiji?
    Fiji is not on planet earth, is it?
    what happens to our fellow human beings in other places is no concern of ours
    is it?

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