MEDIA BIAS SURVEY
SURVEY PERIOD: APRIL 1st to JUNE 18 2014
MATERIAL SOURCE: FIJI SUN & FIJI TIMES NEWS PAPERS
The Truth about Media Bias.
There’s been much discussion about this. The issue here concerns what many believe to be a lack of fair and balanced coverage by Fiji’s two daily newspapers. The end result of such a scenario is that readers are deprived of the facts, comment and news reporting they require to make informed decisions.
In an election it is even more vital for the people to have access to credible even-handed reporting. Without this an election cannot truly be regarded as free and fair as the electorate is less than well informed and therefore limited in its ability to make a sound judgment on whom to vote for or support.
On June 12th 2014 during the opening of the Fiji First office in Suva, Frank Bainimarama accused the Fiji Times of bias. I thought it was extraordinary that he made no comment about the content and slant of the political coverage of the Fiji Times competitor, the Fiji Sun. This said something about the way his mind works. Many citizens regard the Sun as being primarily a mouthpiece for the Bainimarama government. In other words, they see it as being extremely biased in favor of the administration to the extent that it is a propaganda organ.
In a Fiji Sun report on April 30th 2014 about a media workshop held in Suva, the Chairman of MIDA, Ashwin Raj while rejecting claims that the Fiji Sun is biased in favor of the regime said, quote -
‘That is not true, I wish you could read the Fiji Sun on a daily basis because I’ve seen various reports on the National Federation Party, lots of attention on its new leadership. I’ve seen pieces by the Fiji Labour Party leader, pieces by SODELPA, PDP secretariat, and so it’s there’ Unquote.
Ms Rachna Lal The managing editor of business Fiji Sun said this about their reporting at the same workshop, quote
Denies claims The Fiji Sun is a 'government newspaper' but says Rear Admiral Bainimarama's policies have been positive. Ms Lal says he has done a lot of work developing rural areas, which had been neglected by previous governments.
What we are as a newspaper, and we make no apologies for this, is broadly supportive of the Bainimarama government's policies. We believe these policies are building a better Fiji. We know these policies have strong, broad, public support
These are all very strong comments and denials. What are the people to make of them? What is the truth? Either we can all see it or those defending the obvious bias are in a constant state of denial for obvious reasons. So we decided to check for ourselves.
Over the last three weeks, I organized our own research into the content of both newspapers; the aim was to get a clear picture of the political content of both news papers so that we could make a reasoned judgment on the extent or otherwise, of bias.
The research covered the period from April 1st to June 18th. Of the 79 days covered, we surveyed 59 issues of the Fiji Sun which is 75% of all issues in that period, and 58 Fiji Times or 73% of the total issues in that period.
Fiji Sun Coverage:-
In the various categories the Fiji Sun gave the Bainimarama government 40% of the Top Billings, 75% headlines, 100% front page pictures, 90% front page articles, as well as 67% of all the articles. Bainimarama also got 80% of all full page articles, 46% half page, 55% quarter pages, 68% of all the pictures, 89% of all tweets and 75?% of the first word.
They gave the opposition 60% of the top billing, 25% of the headlines, 0% of the front page pictures, 10% of the front page articles, 33% of the articles, 20% of the full pages, 54% of the half pages, 45% of the quarter pages and 32% of the pictures, 11% of the tweets and 25% of the first word.
Fiji Times coverage
The Fiji Times gave the Bainimarama government 100% of its top billing, 100% of its headlines, 100% front page article, 62% of its articles, 65% half page, 59% quarter page 65% of its pictures. The opposition received 33% coverage in its articles, 26% of the half pages, 38% of the quarter pages and 30% of the pictures, while the Independent candidate received 5% of the articles, 9% of the half pages, 4% of the quarter pages and 5% of the pictures.
Fiji Sun Coverage:-
In the various categories the Bainimarama government received 64% of the top billing, 75% of the headlines, 83% of the front page pictures, 83% of the front page articles, 71% of the articles, 82% of the full pages, 65% of the half pages, 73% of the quarter pages, 76% of the pictures, 91% of the tweets, 60% of the first word.
The opposition received 32% of the top billing, 25% of the headlines, 17% of the front page pictures, 28% of the articles, 18% of the full page, and 32% of the half pages, 26% of the quarter pages, 22% of the pictures, 9% of the tweets and 35% of the first word. The independent candidate received 4% of the top billing, 2% of the articles, 3% of the half pages, 1% of the quarter page, 2% of the pictures, and 5% of the first word.
Fiji Times coverage
The Fiji Times gave the Bainimarama government 40% of the top billing, 17% of the headlines, 50% of the front page pictures, 0% of the front page articles, 51% of the articles, 50% of the full pages, 44% half page, 54% quarter page, 48% of the pictures.
The opposition received 60% of the top billing, 83% of the headlines, 50% of the front page pictures, 100% of the front page articles, 45% of the articles, 50% full pages, 57% half page, 40% quarter page, 47% of the pictures, while the Independent candidate received 5% of the articles, 6% of the quarter page and 5% of the pictures.
Fiji Sun Coverage:
The Bainimarama government received 67% of the top billing. 80% of the headlines, 100% of Front page pictures, 100% of the front page articles, 78% of all the articles, 93% of full pages, 68% of half page, 70% of quarter pages 66% of all pictures, 100% of tweets and 39% of the first word.
The opposition received 33% top billings, 20% headlines, 0% front page pictures, 0% front page articles, 21% of articles, 7% of full pages, 28% of half page, 30% of quarter page, 33% of all pictures, 0% of tweets and 54% of the first word, while the Independent candidate received 0.7% of the articles, 4% of the half pages, 0/5% of pictures and 8% of the first words.
Fiji Times Coverage:-
The Bainimarama government received 0% of the top billing, 0% of the headlines, 100% of the front page pictures, 0% of the front page articles, 59% of the articles, 1005 (what does this mean?) of the full pages, 60% of the half pages, 58% of the quarter pages, and 58% of the pictures
The opposition received 100% of the top billing, 0% of the headlines, 0% of the front page pictures, 0% front page articles, 33% of the articles, 27% of the half page articles, 36% of the quarter pages, 33% of the pictures while the Independent candidate received 100% of the front page articles, 7% of the articles, 13% of the half page, 6% of the quarter pages, 9% of the pictures,
While the Fiji Times is generally more balanced in its reporting with 58% covering the Bainimarama regime over the total survey period, the Fiji Sun’s coverage for the regime has never dropped below 73%.
The Opposition received just 26% coverage from the Fiji Sun and 36% from the Fiji Times, while the Independent candidate received 1% coverage from the Fiji Sun and 6% coverage from the Fiji Times.
It is fair to conclude that even though the survey covers the period when the Media is supposedly more free and unrestricted, the results of the current coverage of the two main print media organizations suggests is definitely practiced.
The UFDF has issued dozens of statements on various issues and upwards of 80% never get a mention in either paper, although the blogs and overseas radio & TV provide reasonable coverage.
The Media Industry Development Decree 2010 [Decree No 29 of 2010] was created to establish discipline and balance in the media industry and MIDA was established to enforce the provisions of the decree.
In particular in Schedule 1 (Section [17 (1)] Media Code of Ethics & Practice is supposed to be the Media Industry standard for reporting and Media outlets are supposed to comply with the following requirements.
- Sec 1: Accuracy, balance and fairness: in particular (d) ‘Media organizations have a duty to be balanced and fair in their treatment of news and current affairs and their dealings with members of the public’ & (e) Editorial comment in any medium must be clearly identified as such and kept separate from news reports.
- Sec 2: Opportunity to reply: Media organizations have an obligation to give a fair opportunity to reply to any individual or organization on which the medium itself comments editorially
- Sec 21: Impartially and balance: Media organizations shall endeavor to show fairness at all times, and impartiality and balance in any item or programme, series of items or programmes or in broadly related articles or programmes over a reasonable period of time when presenting news which deals with political matters, current affairs and controversial questions.
The results of our survey make it clear that The Fiji Sun has consistently provided upwards of 73% coverage for the regime which is in breach of the provisions of Sec 1: Accuracy, Balance and fairness, Sec 2: Opportunity to reply and Sec 21 Impartially and balance of Decree 29 of 2010.
The Media Industry Authority headed by Ashwin Raj is charged with the responsibility of ensuring ‘compliance’ with these laws and aside from complaints lodged by Beddoes in February, April and May 5th 2014, Sec 54 of the Media Decree below does allow the Authority to act without complaints against those who breach the decree. Yet no action has been taken.
Part 9 Complaints to the Authority; spells out in Sections 53 to 58, how one can complain and what MIDA is required to do about those complaints.
Once they receive a complaint they are required to notify the media organization of it, request for more information from the complainant and media organization if they need and either dismiss the complaint or proceed with it. If the Media organization fails to provide the information requested then they shall be guilty of an offence under Sec 59 and subject to a fine of $10,000 or 2 years imprisonment or both.
With regards to the 3 complaints lodged with MIDA, they have not asked us for further information nor have they advised that the complaints have been dismissed; therefore we can assume they have complied with Sec 56 and notified the media outlet concerned.
Now given the long time that has lapsed since I lodged my complaints, if the Media organization has not provided information sought by MIDA, then according to Sec 59 they are guilty of an offence. If however the Media organization has not been advised of the complaints, then MIDA has failed to do its job.
Not so long ago MIDA Chairman Raj, sprung into action in response to comments made by Ratu Vesikula at a meeting with Frank Bainimarama in Tailevu. Almost within days of the speech MIDA charged TV One for breaches based on complaints lodged by Sharon Smith Jones about the inadequate airtime given to Bainimarama on the news item, not happy with the 73% advantage in the Fiji Sun obviously. The outcome of the MIDA intervention was reported as follows quote:-
MIDA has upheld the complaint, saying in a statement that the speech threatened "racial and communal discord" and was a "blatant breach of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice on the part of Fiji TV".
"Masquerading itself as an exercise in freedom of expression, political discourse has, in fact, descended to unabashed racial vilification and i some instances its content is tantamount to injourious or hate speech," MIDA Chairman Ashwin Raj said in his ruling.
"The media must not antagonize but should play a much more productive role in fostering cohesion, engendering an ethos of robust debate," he said.
On Wednesday Fiji TV broadcast a response from the interim Prime Minister, but may also be ordered to broadcast an apology.
MIDA is also seeking advice on whether impose a fine, which could be up to $US55, 000.
MIDA has said it will be keeping a closer eye on the media in the lead-up to elections on September 17.
It’s been 4 months since my first complaint was lodged and the only feedback to date is ‘well get back to you’ Again on March 28th a Fiji Times report by Nasik Swami quoted the MIDA Chair stating the following:
"You know, people say that we have not been given equal amount of access so we will have an independent unit to see how much access political parties, government and the other political parties are getting."
Mr Raj said giving equal access to political parties, government and other entities was a requirement for media organizations.
"So we need to ensure there is evidence-based intervention, nobody should presume that a particular media organization is biased towards a particular political party or a particular entity."
But where is the Media Monitoring Unit? When will it start monitoring? We are less than 89 days away from elections. What will they monitor?
The result of our short survey does point to bias on the part of the Fiji Sun. In any democracy, this situation would be a matter that would concern the Supervisor of Elections, the chairman and members of the Electoral Commission and the Chair and Board of MIDA and moves would have already occurred to take corrective action to ensure balance and fairness are reestablished so the integrity and credibility of the elections is not compromised.
Not so in Fiji.
So long as those who have the responsibility to ensure Fiji holds free, fair and transparent elections choose to turn a blind eye to what has been obvious to all for some time now, then the people of Fiji can only draw one conclusion from their silence and unwillingness to enforce their own laws.
These officials have compromised their own integrity and are complicit in the adoption of a selective compliance approach to the decrees to suit their master’s predetermined aims and outcomes.
June 20th 2014