HOW IRONIC. For two days this week, veteran Pacific affairs correspondent Sean Dorney from Australia Network was contributing hugely to an inaugural regional business media summit organised by the Asian Development Bank.
His final contribution to the seminar was a rundown on “tunanomics” and how illegal fishing was, for him, the biggest economic story confronting the Pacific.
No sooner than his fine contribution and the ADB seminar was over, Dorney found himself in the gun again with Fiji media “control freaks” – Dorney’s description – who seem determined to use the controversial 2010 Media Industry Development Decree to gag anything deemed to be “un-Fijian”.
And this seems to include every shred of criticism from the foreign media.
Although this issue never really made it to the floor in this media seminar, there was a lot of muttering behind the scenes over a seven-page complaint of alleged bias by Dorney in his reporting from recent Pacific Media Summit in Noumea, New Caledonia, sent from the decree bureaucracy octopus MIDA (Midas would be more apt after the Greek mythological king who turned things to gold but ended up dying of starvation).
MIDA, or the Media Industry Development Authority, was supposed to be the new media accountability agency that was going to oversee media freedom and freedom of expression and usher in a new era of political discourse and discussion leading to the September 17 general electio
Instead, the chief MIDA moguls, former USP academic Ashwin Raj and former Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) general manager Matai Akauola, have set themselves the task of finding ways to zip-up foreign journalists (and more than a few locals).
Both men are pleased with the existing blacklist topped by Dorney (ABC – Australia), Barbara Dreaver (TVNZ – NZ) and Mike Field (Fairfax Media – NZ). But they don’t want it to end there.
More names are wanted for the banned list, and the ABC’s Campbell Cooney has also been mentioned for a “dishonourable” recommendation.
What did Dorney say in his Noumea report that was so “offensive”? Well, for a start he merely said that “there was a general feeling that there is not much media freedom in Fiji”.
And MIDA wants a retraction from the ABC? Hardly.
At the MIDA media conference announcing the establishment of a “bias” monitoring unit, Raj was reported to have told Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) coordinator Ricardo Morris he would have to choose between being a journalist and an advocate (he is also editor of the monthly news magazine Republika).
Morris defended the right of journalists to speak out for themselves on media issues.
Café Pacific publisher David Robie branded the MIDA media tightening up development as “mind-boggling” at a time when MIDA should be pulling out all stops to restore a vibrant and fearless political debate in Fiji during the return-to-democracy election campaign.