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By Vijay Narayan of Fijivillage

People’s Alliance leader Sitiveni Rabuka says a People’s Alliance government will scrap the draconian Media Industry Development Act and allow a free press to thrive in Fiji.

Rabuka has condemned the decision of the FijiFirst government to amend its Media Act by outlawing the appointment of a media company manager without the approval of government.

He said this was the height of the government’s “arrogance and despotism”.

Rabuka asked what was the government’s business in the operations of a private media company, adding why should a private company seek the permission of a “basically dormant government office” on the manager it wanted to hire.

He said this was unheard of as government had no business “poking its nose” into the operations and management of a private company.

These were companies that ran on their own money, not depending on a single cent from taxpayers — unlike the pro-government media outlets, he said.

Rabuka asked what message was the government sending local and foreign investors in Fiji.

Challenge to investor confidence
At a time when the economy was slowly recovering from the economic lows of the covid-19 pandemic, Rabuka questioned how such “legislated interference’ in the running of private enterprise would boost investor confidence.

He also said the Media Industry Development (Budget Amendment) Bill was appalling, coming as it was after the naming of Fiji as the worst nation in the Pacific for press freedom and an open civic space in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

The former Prime Minister said the tag of Fiji being the worst nation for press freedom sank lower with this proposed amendment of the Media Act.

He said the government thrived on an oppressive and no consultative type of rule.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Index had labelled Fiji the worst nation in the Pacific for journalists, with intimidation and other restrictions threatening open civic space in the country.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based global press freedom watchdog that operates the index, said journalists were often subjected to intimidation when they were overly critical of the government or attempted to hold leaders accountable by ensuring they delivered on their promises.

Fiji placed 102nd out of 180 countries.

Managing media affairs
The Media Industry Development (Budget Amendment) Bill 2022 which was being debated in Parliament this week, sought to amend the Act to prohibit a media organisation from entering into any agreement which allowed any other person from managing the affairs or operations of the media organisation without the prior approval of the authority.

It said this would ensure that control of a media organisation remained with the media organisation.

The Bill seeks to amend the Act to ensure that those who are directly in charge of a media organisation and its operations are shielded from any outside influence that may — by formal agreement or other arrangement — essentially take over or control the provision of services.

These services deal with the day-to-day operations of the media organisation, including its finances, staffing, productions or publications.

The Bill also amends the Act to require a media organisation to notify the authority where any such agreement exists and to provide details of the agreement in order to verify and ensure that the media organisation’s operations are not in any way unduly influenced.

The Media Industry Development Act 2010 Act provides for the regulation and registration of media organisations in Fiji.

Under section 33 of the Act, every media organisation that provides or intends to provide media services in Fiji must be registered.

Sworn affidavits
A media organisation is registered when the proprietor or proprietors of the media organisation deposit with the Media Industry Development Authority, a duly sworn and signed affidavit or affidavits containing the required information as specified under the Act.

Section 38 of the Act provides that in the case of a company, all directors of a media organisation must be Fijian citizens permanently residing in Fiji. In the case of any other legal entity, the person or persons with analogous powers in a media organisation, must also be Fijian citizens permanently residing in Fiji.

The Act also provides the limits of beneficial ownership of shares in a company or any other interest in the nature of ownership of a media organisation.

Up to 10 percent of the beneficial ownership or interest in the nature of ownership of a media organisation is allowed for any foreign person holding such shares or interests while 90 percent of any beneficial ownership of shares or any other interest in the nature of ownership of the media organisation, must be owned by Fijian citizens permanently residing in Fiji.

Vijay Narayan is news director of Fijivillage.

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