Fiji parliamentary justice committee in heated debate over news media decree

SODELPA's Semesa Karavaki ... dumped as standing committee deputy chair over challenge about Fiji's media decree. Image: SODELPA

By Matilda Simmons in Suva

Two prominent Fiji lawyers and members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights had a go at each other for almost 10 minutes during a submission hearing last week.

The quarrel between Opposition member of the committee Semesa Karavaki and committee chair Ashneel Sudhakar resulted in Karavaki being removed from the post of deputy chair of the committee.

The post is often held by Opposition members. The Opposition office said Karavaki would still be part of the standing committee as an ordinary member.

The committee was hearing submissions on the draft Information Bill from human rights advocate Peter Waqavonovono on Friday when Sudhakar and Karavaki trailed off into a debate of their own.

Waqavonovono had asked the committee to consider integrating the role of the media into the Information Bill and repeal the Media Industry Development Decree and other existing media legislation.

“One of the reasons I personally believe is it [Media Decree] contains extreme measures that have no place in a democracy that we’re trying to build for this country Fiji,” Waqavonovono said.

“The severe penalties imposed on journalists (can) impede the free flow of information and news. I believe that current legislation actually criminalises journalism and that’s my personal view.”

‘Roundabout way’
Karavaki then asked Waqavonovono whether the Media Decree could restrict a person from publishing the information accessed under the Information Bill. Sudhakar intervened and disallowed the question saying it was a “roundabout way of looking at the Media Decree”.

“Why disallow that question?” asked Karavaki. “I’m asking a question here and I have a right to the answer.”

Sudhakar replied the Media Decree was not being reviewed by them.

“We are not looking at MIDA [Media Industry Development Authority]. The Information Bill has not a single reference to the development decree. It is designed for mostly public to extract information held by government officers,” Sudhakar said.

“You’re asking a question on a Bill that is not even considered by this committee. You should know better.

“I do know better than you,” retorted Karavaki. “You are a small child!

“I will reprimand you for this, Sir,” said Sudhakar.

“This is totally out of order. You’re trying to ask that question just to get an answer that is not even looked at by this committee.

“What is wrong with that? What are you scared of?” asked Karavaki.

“I’m scared of your insanity. You are asking a question that has no reference to journalists in the Information Bill,” said Sudhakar.

Matilda Simmons is a Fiji Times reporter.

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