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Is MIDA an Oxymoron? Letter to MIDA Chairman and Media Editors (21 Dec. 2014)

21/12/2014

Mr Ashwin Raj
Chairman (MIDA)

Dear Sir

While your communication of 19th December 2014 (via a cc to me) declares with respect to my complaints that “the case is closed”, I disagree.

I hereby submit this set of formal complaints to you, including one that you as Chairman of MIDA, have failed to satisfactorily address my previous complaints to you, contrary to the requirements of the Media Decree 29 of 2010, and you are thereby yourself personally partly responsible for the continuing disturbances so publicly evident in the media industry.

Requirements of the Media Industry Development Decree (Decree 29 of 2010)

Paragraph 8 (a) states that the authority is required to “encourage, promote and facilitate the development of media organizations and media services in Fiji”.

I suggest that this requires, for instance, that the professional staff of the media organizations must be treated fairly in their employment, without any arbitrary termination without due cause (see Complaint 1).

It also requires that targeted media organizations are not treated unfairly by government in the disposition of tax payer funds for official advertisements or subsidies or fulfilment of lawful contracts (refer to Complaints 2 and 3 below).

Paragraph 8 (d) requires MIDA to “ensure that media services are provided at a high standard in all respects and, in particular, in respect of the quality, balance, fair judgment and range of subject-matter of their content”.

This requires that Editors of media organizations, must not arbitrarily refuse to print Letters to the Editor which are in the public interest and ensure balance in content, which are also required by the Media Decree No. 29 of 2010 (refer to Complaint 4 below).

Paragraph 9 (a) requires MIDA to “conduct research and investigations necessary for the improvement and development of media in Fiji”.  Paragraph 9 (b) requires MIDA to develop and monitor codes of practices relating to content of technical standards for media services or to standards of fair market conduct in the media industry, and monitor compliance with such codes”. Both of these have now been reneged upon by you (refer to Complaint 4).

Paragraph 8 (b) of the 2010 Media Decree LSO requires MIDA to advise and make recommendations to the Minister on any pertinent matters, measures and regulations connected to the media (refer to Complaint 7 below).

I hereby make the following formal complaints to you, in respect of your statutory obligations as Chairman of MIDA.

Formal Complaints

Complaint 1

I request you to conduct a formal inquiry into the causes of the termination of Fiji TV CEO (Tevita Gonelevu) and Head of Content (Tanya Waqanika) by the Board of FHL, as also called for by some elected members of the Fiji Parliament.

I call on you to also investigate whether the recent suspension of these two Fiji TV staff has been encouraged by your refusal to investigate my previous complaint about the suspension of Mr Anish Chand by Fiji TV (see Complaint 3 below) as well as the clearly intimidating renewal of the license of Fiji TV on a six monthly basis (also in Complaint 3 below).

Complaint 2

I request you to investigate the recent disturbances caused by government interference with the contractual right of Fiji TV to broadcast Rugby Sevens, as also called for by some elected members of the Fiji Parliament.

I call on you to also investigate whether this disturbance has been encouraged by your refusal to investigate my previous complaint about a similar disturbance and undermining of a broadcast rights contract that Mai TV had won from FIFA (see Complaint 3 below).

Complaint 3

I wish to register with MIDA my complaint that you as Chairman, despite the requirements of Clause 8 (a) of the 2010 Media Decree, continue to refuse to reply to previous complaints I have made to you (as on 3 July 2014) about the lack of a level playing field in the media industry, whereby I had requested (I quote below):

“could you please inform the public what is your position on:

(a)    tax payers’ advertisement funds being channelled by the Bainimarama Government only to Fiji Sun with The Fiji Times, the oldest Fijian newspaper, being totally denied

 (b) outright subsidies given to FBC via government budget and government guarantees of loans from FDB, with no such subsidies given to either Fiji TV or the other radio broadcasters, Communications Fiji Ltd.

 (c)  the clearly intimidating renewal of the license for Fiji TV on a six monthly basis, while FBC TV suffers from no such restriction

 (d) While Fiji TV’s accounts are available to the shareholders, FBC accounts are not available at all to the taxpayers who supposedly own FBC.

 (e) Mai TV’s “scoop” at obtaining rights to the broadcast of FIFA World Cup (a legitimate entrepreneurial transaction admired in the business world) being forcibly shared by decree among the other broadcasters, on financial terms dictated by the Bainimarama Government rather than negotiated amongst themselves as a market transaction.

I remind you that you have steadfastly refuse to respond on the above matters to me personally or through the media and I request you again, to respond to these complaints.

I further request that if you are indeed now “Executive Chairman” as the 19th Dec. 2014 email from the Publisher/CEO of Fiji Sun (Peter Lomas) addresses you as, then I suggest that you ask the Board of MIDA (if there is one), to establish how a complaint against you as Chairman is to be addressed.

Complaint 4

When I had previously complained to you as MIDA Chairman that the two newspapers were not publishing some of my Letters to the Editor which ought to have been published as they were clearly in the public interest and satisfying the “balanced content” requirement of the 2010 Media Decree, you responded to the newspapers (Peter Lomas and Fred Wesley) and merely cc’d to me (17 Dec. 2014) stating the following:

“I wish to reiterate that as much as the media is free to publish, it equally has the right not to publish.  ..  any interference by MIDA  in this process would ordinarily be deemed as an assault on the independence of the media by Wadan Narsey amongst others…. The matter is now closed.”

It is patently ridiculous of you to claim that requiring the newspapers to publish Letters to the Editor which are legitimately raising matters of public interest amounts to “an interference by MIDA in this process” and “an assault on the independence of the media by Wadan Narsey amongst others.”

Perhaps you might like to explain which of MIDA’s interventions on in the media industry can be seen as “interference” and which are legitimate under the 2010 Media Decree.

Furthermore, I suggest that it is quite inappropriate for you to declare dictatorially that “the matter is now closed” when you have patently not responded to my specific complaints.

I request you yet again to obtain from the two newspapers (The Fiji Times and Fiji Sun), in keeping with paragraphs 9 (a) of the 2010 Media Decree, detailed information on the content of my Letters on which they have exercised their discretion to not publish, and to explain to me and the public, how publishing these Letters to the Editor would have constituted an “assault on the independence of the media” as opposed to providing “balanced content” raising “legitimate questions in the public interest”.

Complaint 5

Just prior to the elections I complained to you (on 20 August 2014) that the media journalists who were interviewing political candidates, and MIDA itself did not appear to be neutral during the elections, despite your pronouncements that you would ensure that the media was neutral during the elections.

One Fiji Broadcasting Corporation journalist, Veena Bhatnagar, soon after showing her pro-Bainimarama bias when hosting an FBC hosted debate between two political candidates (Professor Biman Prasad of NFP and Aiyaz Khaiyum of FFP), herself became a candidate for FFP (and is now an elected MP).   The MIDA CEO (Matai Akauola) also become a candidate for FFP.

I asked you to explain when exactly your CEO began discussions with the FFP to stand as their candidate, and to ask the FBC CEO (Riyaz Khaiyum) when he was informed by his journalist Veena Bhatnagar that she was having discussions with Fiji First Party to stand as  a candidate for them.

You did not reply to these questions which ought to have received your close attention as MIDA Chairman, given all your many utterances in the media how you were going to ensure that the media was fair to all parties and candidates.

I request you again to answer these questions.

Complaint 6

I request you to explain why you have reversed your position of several months ago that you were calling on the editors of newspapers to furnish you with their editorial policies on Letters to the Editor (as required by the 2010 Media Decree, paragraphs 9 (a) and (b), to one today where you are declaring that they are totally free to publish or not publish, without any accountability to you which you are now strangely labeling as “interference”.

Complaint 7

Since you are required to act proactively (as you amply displayed over the alleged “hate speech” of Ratu Timoci Vesikula), can you inform the public whether you have advised or made any recommendations on any of the issues involved in Complaints 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, above to the Minister for Communications, as you are required to do by the 2010 Media Decree, Clause 8 (b).

Complaint 8

I request you to make known your position on clear possibility of conflict of interest, when the Minister for Communications frequently makes decisions on the media industry which directly impacts on the welfare of Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, whose CEO is his own brother. This has also been criticized by elected Members of Parliament.

I also suggest to the Opposition political parties that while they wait for you to respond (and that may well be delayed because of your other well-publicized activities on behalf of the Fiji Government), they simultaneously use their abundance of lawyers and apply to the courts to obtain justice from MIDA, given that reasonable requests from individual tax payers are now being construed by you as an “assault on the independence of the media”.

 Is MIDA an oxymoron?

It is abundantly clear that the weaknesses in the media industry as outlined in my specific complaints continue to create media undesirable “disturbances” which are not conducive to harmonious development of either the media industry or social objectives served by a sound media industry.

Should you continue to refuse to respond to these complaints above, then I suggest through this Open Letter to the Editor, that students of journalism and English ought to investigate whether MIDA, under your chairmanship, is a good example of an “oxymoron”.

Professor Wadan Narsey
Suva

 

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