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Date Posted: 02:00:28 02/26/04 Thu
Author: USPJ
Subject: Media in Fiji (Sharon Rolls in the Fiji Times)

Fiji Times, 26/2/04, p 6

20 February 2004

Letters to the Editor column

Re: Media in Fiji

Sir/Madam

Allow me to share my perspective on recent comments about the mainstream media, particularly in reference to the Prime Minister’s opening speech at this week’s CBA conference.

Since the 1980s (possibly even earlier) government policy has enabled a de-regulated media market. We have seen the increase in the number of newspapers and commercial publication, the deregulation of the ‘airwaves’ has increased in the number of radio stations, mostly broadcasting a commercial format, and the advent of television, as well as and numerous other new media. The agenda set by government for this media environment has certainly enabled media consumers in Fiji to enjoy a very vibrant and commercialised media, which is very different from the concept of public service or community media.

A commercial media environment creates vigorous competition between the various media organisations from ‘breaking news stories to programming content’ and results in ‘ratings hype’, much of this is perceived to be for the benefit of advertisers whose ‘funding’ is required to maintain operations, keep the media organisations commercially viable and profitable for their ownership. I say perceived, because media executives may argue that their organisations do provide a people-centred approach but require this income in order to survive and that their formats or content is driven by their organisation’s aims, objectives and missions which take into account their target demographics.

So where does this leave the media consumers or the target demographics?
We have to admit that we have remained collectively passive as these media reforms have taken place in our country, and it seems that as we are challenged to face the realities of the development needs in our country, especially in a situation of post conflict reconstruction, we are being frustrated by the lack of space in the commercial, mainstream media to exchange viewpoints, highlight our issues, and to see a true reflection of Fiji’s realities in the press and programmes that we receive.
Or is it there and we are just not happy about our inability to control what we receive as media consumers?

I fear that attempts to control the media, through legislative regulation would not actually enable media consumers to claim our space for our issues, our concerns and our experiences. There are a number of forums, including the Fiji Media Council, Fiji Media Watch, and of course the women’s movement and other civil society groups, which can provide a collective platform for discussion and dialogue for all stakeholders – which actually must include the media consumers and civil society groups, and not just government and media organisations.

However, recent experiences have increased my disappointment of the mainstream media especially when issues are raised by individuals or concerned groups forums, seem to attract a ‘we cannot please everyone’ attitude.

This has really been the experience of many of us who work towards a more equitable and balanced portrayal of women’s issues and images (but then that’s a whole other letter!). Many of us, in the women’s movement have moved on to create our own media spaces, so as not to be limited by the commercial mandate or media policy constraints, however we also realise that we cannot work in isolation and therefore in order to ‘mainstream’ our issues there is a need to understand EACH media organisation’s policy – rather than making blanket judgements.

So there is a very practical need for the media executives in our country to respond to the concerns being expressed. How will you be able to take into account the needs and sentiments expressed by your target demographics, and maintain your commercial agendas? How will you be able to balance entertainment driven content with the realities of the education and information needs?

Freedom of information and freedom of expression, and a right to communication, is not just about the rights of the media industry to inform, educate and entertain. It is also about ensuring equitable space for all people to be able to feel valued for the contributions they wish to make through the media and to be able to do this in a safe environment.

Legislative reforms and tighter government control I fear, would not enable this. It is therefore up to all the stakeholders to work towards creating a media environment that can service the needs of all the people of Fiji – it is certainly a challenge, but if there is true commitment to this issue, it needs to be done. After all this is an important part of our country’s reconstruction ….working towards sustainable development for a  peaceful, prosperous Fiji.

Vinaka-Shukria, Peace
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
P O Box 2439
Government Buildings
Suva

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