EDITORIAL: By the editor-in-chief Fred Wesley
It’s gone! Finito! Yesterday was a memorable day for the media. The Media Industry Development Act was repealed in Parliament. The draconian piece of legislation is no more — and good riddance!
After 16 years, we finally can heave a sigh of relief, and look forward with great confidence. It mattered to journalists — and to the public, it should have mattered. In fact anything that has the potential to suppress information must be condemned strongly.
We are grateful and pleased that the MIDA was thrown out. The people of Fiji have a right to be informed. You all have a right to know what is happening around you, and the media has a duty to disseminate information without fear.
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No one was ever taken to court for a breach of the Act — yet law remained a constant threat for editors. And that’s why we say it was designed to suppress the media, subsequently affecting the quality of information given to the masses.
There were massive penalties that were in place including fines of up to $100,000 and jail terms of up to two years. It meant editors were always second guessing what could be construed as possible breaches.
Freedom of expression should not be a sensitive topic, especially if you are ever going to talk about suppression. The people have a right to know they have a government that is held up to scrutiny, and is accountable for every action it takes.
That role falls on the Fourth Estate, the media — and this is why there was no room for the MIDA. Fiji needs a media landscape that is conducive to and encourages sensitivity to the rights of every Fijian.
So when 29 parliamentarians voted for the Act to be repealed yesterday, they showed they valued freedom of expression and the media — a pillar of democracy which is critically important in the greater scheme of things.
The media must be encouraged to play its watch-dog role without fear or favour. Speaking in support of the Bill to repeal the Act, Attorney-General Siromi Turaga said the media industry and by extension the dissemination of vital and relevant information to the public must be carried out in an environment where there is no fear of the unknown.
It is that fear of the unknown that kept editors on edge for 13 years.
How could you ignore that with massive fines and a jail term hanging over your head daily? Because there was no clear explanation about what constituted a breach, editors faced the very real possibility of someone somewhere using the Act against them.
It certainly wasn’t fashionable standing against the government then, raising niggling issues that made those in power look bad. The people do not need absolute control by the government. They don’t need suppressed information either.
Every MP who opposed the repeal of the Act needs to get a reality check about the value of information in a democracy. We should all be able to make well-informed decisions daily and be aware of what those in the corridors of power are up to.
Yes, we realise the media has the ability to influence the public, and with this power comes a greater sense of responsibility, and yes we know the importance of credible and accurate information to a nation.
We know about integrity. So today we look forward with a sense of optimism, and gratitude. We acknowledge every journalist, photographer, all those who work behind the scenes in media organisations, their families and loved ones, and all those who value freedom of expression.
You stood up to oppression, and held on, with hope that there would be good days. What a moment in time it turned out to be yesterday! Certainly one for the ages!
This Fiji Times editorial was published on 6 April 2023 under the original headline “One for the ages”. Republished with permission.