Wednesday 4 March 2015 | Published in Regional
Ricardo Morris, chair of the Fiji Media Association (FMA), has told Radio New Zealand International that the controversy highlighted several problematic issues with Fiji media regulation and the 2010 Media Decree, suggesting this could be a “catalyst for change”.
Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) chair Ashwin Raj made a ruling on February 9 against the Fiji Sun over an “antagonistic” article over the newspaper and a ‘Coconut Whispers’ gossip column item “defaming” Sodelpa Waqavonovono.
Raj told the newspaper it must adhere to “balance, accuracy and the principles of responsible journalism”.
Speaking on Dateline Pacific, he said: “In this case the Fiji Sun does have a point in that decisions being made by one person (MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj) – limits free speech on the basis of what one person rules.”
“I think this case will probably bring these issues out to the fore and, you know, bring it out into the public discussion that we need.
“So I think this will be the catalyst for a bit more deeper introspection into what the media authority is about.”
In a report this week challenging the validity of the ruling, the Fiji Sun reported it’s publisher-chief executive, Peter Lomas, saying Raj appeared to have made the decision alone without a “properly constituted MIDA meeting”.
The newspaper is strongly supporting its managing news editor Jyoti Pratibha.
Lomas said Pratibha’s robust reporting is being targeted through a smear campaign and complaints to MIDA by people linked to the parliamentary opposition.
The Fiji Sun’s lawyers will be looking at all options in response, he said.
A member of the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa) – who had originally filed the complaints against the Fiji Sun and the newspaper’s editorial management – has said he is now considering filing lawsuits.
The report published in the Fiji Sun on December 28, 2014, stating that Pita Waqavonovono, chair of Sodelpa’s youth wing, should be “cleaned out” of the party, adding that he “needed deodorant and a shave”.
MIDA chairman Raj determined that another Fiji Sun article by managing news editor Pratibha was “antagonistic, thoroughly yoked in the logic of race and bereft of facts”.
The article blamed opposition parties for being “racist and divisive” but provided no evidence to support the claim.
The ruling also referred to the article that “defamed” Waqavonuvonu, which was ruled “incriminating and in breach of the media decree”.
Sodelpa’s Waqavonovono has called for more people to speak out and join his action against the Fiji Sun.
“I’m hoping to take a lot of people along with me. So I’m just encouraging as many people who feel they have been defamed, who feel they have been misrepresented by the Fiji Sun and we’re all going to pitch in and take this mega newspaper to court.”
Meanwhile, The Fiji Sun has given Raj a deadline for apologising over his findings against the paper.
The newspaper’s lawyers have written to the Media Industry Development Authority saying its chairman had no authority or grounds to make what it calls a purported decision against the paper.
The Sun’s lawyers say Raj’s decision was erroneous and he had no right or power to make it.
It has given Raj until March 9 to retract and apologise over the findings.
The paper has also called for an inquiry into the decision by the Attorney General’s office.
MIDA was set up under a military decree in 2010 as an independent statutory authority aimed at regulating Fiji’s media and ensuring high standards of reporting.