No need for Fiji media bill, public consultation told

Fiji media delegation.

“We don’t see the need for this bill” was the message of Fiji media veteran, William Parkinson at public submissions on the Media Industry Development Act (MIDA) yesterday.

Parkinson, was speaking to a submission he signed as Communications Fiji Limited Chair, along with Fiji TV Limited Chair Deepak Rathod, Fiji Times Limited General Manager Christine Lyons and Fijian Broadcasting Corporation General Manager Tarun Patel.

The proposed new media law keeps elements of media ownership regulation and registration in MIDA, while eliminating the restrictive and draconian content regulation provisions of the Act.

Parkinson said they understood during the campaign period, the now-government parties promised they would repeal the bill, “and we would like them to stick to that promise,” he stated.

“We really don’t see a need to register individual media organisations; we believe that we are already registered from a legal perspective as incorporated companies and other various means, so it is certainly not needed,” he said.

Parkinson added that any attempt to separately register media organisations creates the possibility of intimidation through potential deregistration.

He said for the past 16 years the media has faced unprecedented political interference and control, and they are desperate to rebuild the industry and profession, but that this can only start with repealing MIDA.

William Parkinson
William Parkinson

Opening the consultation, Fiji’s Solicitor General, Ropate Green Lomavatu said, “Since the commencement of this decree, it has been amended six times, and in line with the government’s commitment, we are committed to reviewing the act to remove certain controversial provisions of the act.”

Rules on foreign ownership, which have been retained in the new bill, were also challenged yesterday.

Parkinson said, “The issue of foreign ownership is something that we believe should be left to the market, and I think that is something that we can be proud of, and we don’t see the need to restrict or create barriers for foreign investors to come in.

“In fact, we would welcome the opportunity for foreign participation in the local media, and we really don’t see why we should be denied the opportunity to access foreign investment should that be necessary, both in terms of capital and also in terms of expertise,” he said.

On the issue of cross-media ownership, Parkinson submitted, “our view is that all of our media organisations are working in the cross-border space, we are already there, we are already online, in video, in print, and using audio, so this notion of cross-media is really a very old-fashioned one.”

The revival of the Fijian Media Council was also explored, with Parkinson suggesting it should be “community driven, the further away from the government in its broadest sense, the better in my mind; it truly is guaranteeing its independence.”

Media academic, Dr. Shailendra Singh, also made a submission, saying: “We think that the government should have no involvement in regulating the news media, but with this [new draft], we have a minister appointing a Media Authority.”

In response to the question of foreign ownership, lawyer Richard Naidu, who assisted in drafting the new bill, urged caution.

“I think the point is made that if you allow foreign ownership, you get better investment, better input, and possibly stronger news media.

“On the other hand, not all foreign ownership is benign, and we have to be a little careful about what we wish for here, but these are issues that have to be opened up and fully explored,” he said.

“The priority in this bill was getting rid of all content regulation in the media industry development act, and that’s done, it’s all gone, so the concerns journalists have, I think, around that, I hope are addressed,” says Naidu.

Submissions made yesterday will be collated in a paper to go to cabinet.