"The Regional Human Rights and Media Forum has been re-scheduled to 13-15 April due to Cyclone Winston. It is to be held in Nadi and is sponsored by the Pacific Community, PACMAS, the European Union and PINA. The knowledge and insights gained by many of the journalists present will be useless to them in their daily working lives. Media freedom has been abolished in Fiji - in concept and in practice – by an all-embracing media law that in effect prohibits publication or broadcast of all and any material that might offend the regime. It is backed by massive fines and worse for those who dare to contravene it and is overseen by the strangely named Media Industry Development Authority.
So why hold such an event in Fiji?"
It remains to be seem how Fiji will – if at all – celebrate World Media Freedom Day next month - 3 May. For in a land where media freedom is banned by decree there would seem little reason to mark the occasion.
In fact in 2009 UNESCO pointedly held an important regional Media Freedom Day event in Samoa as opposed to the traditional venue of Fiji. There was a strong contingent of Fiji journalists present.
That was then. This is now.
Now a team of regional bodies are again supporting an important human rights and media freedom workshop – in Fiji where human rights are, to be generous, restricted and where media freedom does not exist.
The Regional Human Rights and Media Forum has been re-scheduled to 13-15 April due to Cyclone Winston. It is to be held in Nadi and is sponsored by the Pacific Community, PACMAS, the European Union and PINA
As is common in such regional gatherings, the host nation, in this case Fiji, provides the biggest single delegation.
Attendees will learn much about rights reporting, media freedom and associated subjects. The promotional material makes much of the importance of human rights and the meeting aims to help the media be the “voice of the voiceless”.
But the knowledge and insights gained by many of the journalists present will be useless to them in their daily working lives.
Media freedom has been abolished in Fiji - in concept and in practice – by an all-embracing media law that in effect prohibits publication or broadcast of all and any material that might offend the regime. It is backed by massive fines and worse for those who dare to contravene it and is overseen by the strangely named Media Industry Development Authority.
So why hold such an event in Fiji?
Fijileaks asked the question of the PC, EU and PACMAS. We also sent inquiries to MIDA.
Only the PC and PACMAS replied. Their replies are set out in full below but both insist that logistics was the overriding concern in that Fiji is the most convenient hub for Pacific islands personnel to gather.
And in what may be an unheralded change of heart by MIDA, neither the PC nor PACMAS was required to submit personnel and curriculum details of this meeting for MIDA approval, though MIDA has made it clear in the past that it would need to authorise both in advance.
Fijileaks invited MIDA to comment but received no reply.
Yet the Rights and Media Forum program contains the likes of:
Protecting Freedoms – Media Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information.
Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information.
Covering Corruption and Promoting Good Governance.
Investigative Journalism and Controversial Human Rights Issues.
All are vital elements of any rights and media conference. None can be applied in the host nation, Fiji.
Here are the responses in full from the Pacific Community and PACMAS:
Deputy Director – Social Development Division
Head of Human Rights Programme - Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT)
The Regional Human Rights and Media Forum is being jointly convened by the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the School of Journalism at the University of the South Pacific (USP).
The forum focuses on the theme ‘Enhancing a Human Rights-based Approach to News Reporting’ and has the following objectives: to explore, and deepen understanding of, the role of the media in promoting and protecting human rights in the Pacific; to strengthen knowledge of the media and the law, and how domestic and international law and human rights standards impact news reporting; and to build capacity in human rights and gender-sensitive reporting in newsrooms.
Decisions related to the location and logistics were made collectively by the co-organisers. We selected Nadi, Fiji, based on various factors, including cost effectiveness and the ease of travel access for participants from across the region. SPC, through its Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), has chosen the speakers in partnership with PACMAS.
Fiji’s Ministry of Information has been invited to attend the forum, along with representatives of Information Ministries from other Pacific Island countries. There is no other Fiji Government involvement in this event.
SPC is a non-political organisation. We provide a range of technical support in the area of human rights to all our member countries, of which Fiji is one.
Head International Development, ABC International
(On behalf of PACMAS)
I'd like to seek your on-record comments regarding the recent Human Rights Reporting Media Workshop due to be held in Nadi (and now, I think, re-scheduled following the devastating arrival of TC Winston). I understand it was co-sponsored by Pacmas.
[DF - PACMAS is a major sponsor of the Human Rights Based Journalism workshop organised by the SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team. The SPC submitted a funding proposal to PACMAS in 2015 and support was offered on the basis that the workshop aligned closely with PACMAS’s core objective – to support the development of diverse, independent and professional media that promotes informed and meaningful public discourse.]
Why would you wish to hold a rights and media freedom workshop in a land where human rights are very heavily restricted and media freedom is banned by decree?
[DF - The decision of where to hold such an event is assessed carefully. Access for participants is often a key driver and the decision to hold it in Fiji was jointly agreed with the SPC.]
What benefit would this meeting be to journalists and rights activists in Fiji?
[DF - The PACMAS approach has always been one of support for and inclusion of Pacific media practitioners from across the region. This includes Fiji.]
Fiji's MIDA has declared it would vet all such meetings and their speakers. Were you subject to any requests, demands or guidance from MIDA or the Fiji government regarding this meeting?
[DF - We are not aware of any demand(s) from MIDA or the Fiji Government regarding this workshop.]
The meeting introductory notes spoke of the media being a "voice for the voiceless" yet the meeting was to be held in a country where the voiceless are just that and the media strictly controlled by the regime. Why the choice of venue?
[DF - As above]
Fijileaks says they – obviously – should have been.
And must be in future.
Fijileaks Editor: MIDA boss Ashwin Raj is yet to respond to us but he cannot "gnomic-ally' complain later that we did not give him THE RIGHT TO REPLY