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Pacific Media Centre

This thesis examines conflict reporting in Fiji, an ethnically and politically divided Pacific island country debilitated by four socially and economically devastating coups between 1987 and 2006. Like media in some other developing countries, the Fiji media stand accused of exacerbating societal tensions through ill-informed, inflammatory journalism. This has had major repercussions for freedom of speech and good governance, with governments often citing media’s alleged role in aggravating conflict as justification for the introduction of punitive Media Industry Development Decree in 2010. Pacific media lacks in-depth scholarly investigation, and consequently this Fiji focussed research has four core objectives: to empirically test the claims being made constantly about conflict reporting; to assess journalists’ professionalism and diversity; to analyse media legislation to determine whether it is having its purported effects; and finally, to examine the national media ownership structure and its impact on journalism. These cross-cutting issues are examined through the political economy and normative media theoretical frameworks in combination with contemporary conflict reporting concepts such as peace journalism.

The literature review involved an assessment of the media coverage of the major post-Cold War conflicts, including some in the Pacific. In the main, existing literature focuses on Western news organisations. Non-Western, domestic media are largely neglected, with little exploration of the links between media content and the national media structure (ownership, legislation, journalist diversity and journalist capacity). The thesis approaches conflict reporting in Fiji in a holistic manner by linking media content to the national media landscape. This method enables not only an empirical assessment of the long-standing claims made against the Fiji media, but also a determination of whether conflict resolution can, and should be, one of the recognised roles of the national media in a tense, multi-ethnic country such as Fiji.

The methodology includes the following: a content analysis of the print media’s coverage of the 2006 general elections; a survey of the national journalist corps; a document review to evaluate the legislative environment and the national media ownership structure; and in-depth interviews for deeper insights into the key issues emanating from the literature. The content analysis returned a peace journalism reading, but the lack of context and the heavy reliance on elite sources diminished the value of the positive tone of the overall findings. Indeed, a new line of enquiry indicated that media were under-reporting important socio-economic issues, usually at the heart of societal conflict.

The questionnaire survey revealed a relatively young, inexperienced and under-qualified journalist corps, which betrayed signs of a fairly high rate of journalist attrition. This thesis tries to determine to what extent this problem can be attributed to low salaries, and to some other potential causes, such as Fiji’s coup culture and punitive media legislation. Document review shows the legal environment has become quite restrictive since the 2006 coup, and that the media ownership regime has become increasingly corporatised since Fiji’s independence in 1970. Following the implementation of the 2010 Media Decree, the government has become the most powerful influence in the media sector, both as a major proprietor and a high-volume advertiser. Moreover, government is the legislator of not only media policies, but also trade, business and economic policies that could impact on the profitability of media company owners, which include local conglomerates with major interests in other sectors of the economy.

These findings are indicative of a media sector mired in serious political, economic, and structural challenges. The results show that inflammatory reporting may have been a problem at one time, and is not to be underestimated in a multi-ethnic country like Fiji. But the one-sided focus of the policy on inflammatory reporting could be diverting attention from the more serious, deep-rooted problems that seem to have taken hold in the media sector over the decades, such as the lack of in-depth coverage, apparently due to insufficient newsroom capacity. This morass leads to the conclusion that authoritarian oversight, over-regulation and punitive media laws – introduced in the name of social stability and national development – are insufficient on their own to address the root causes of the problems. A better strategy would be to direct greater efforts towards training and development, and improving working conditions to build and retain a strong journalist corps over the long term.

This study spans theory, practice and policy. With conflict reporting rarely researched in a systematic manner in the Pacific, the thesis aims to put the subject firmly on the agenda. It seeks to make a distinct contribution to knowledge with originality through approaching the whole area via theoretical frameworks involving political economy and peace journalism. Policy-wise, conflict containment is going to be an on-going, generational effort in Fiji, and a study looking into the problem from a media perspective is long overdue.