Friday, February 04, 2011

Reporting the news in Fiji

from w
From the time I did a couple of Journalism subjects at Deakin, I've been interested in the sub-texts of the articles I read in the papers and see on the TV - why so much emphasis on conflict, tragedy, stupidity, 'bad' news, and of course sometimes an ethnocentric bias such as page one - one Australian died, page 26 5000 died in Bangladesh. Anyway, here's an article from a lecture given recently in Fiji. I'll read it more carefully and make some comments later on - at the moment we are off to a barbecue of our Fiji group here in Australia.

from the Fiji Times features today:
Report some things or report nothing
Saturday, February 05, 2011Head of Journalism at USP Shailendra Singh.

The form, function and ethos of news media in Fiji and the Pacific are under increasing scrutiny. Debate about the suitability of western-style reporting in fragile, multi-ethnic societies is gaining momentum given the premium placed on conflict as an element of news.

Recently, two seminars on media and peace-building were held in Suva to discuss such issues.

The mainstream media might retort that social cohesion or peace-building is not our responsibility. Our job is to report the news fairly, accurately and objectively. Or, as a result of public debate and discussion, mainstream media might have a rethink about whether it can continue to report in the same manner as before when so much has changed in the interim.

In terms of Fiji's media environment, such discussions are starting to happen, which is a sign of progress.

Devil's advocate

Just like government, media needs to be scrutinized and challenged. It needs a devil's advocate to keep it on its toes, and in touch with the people.

Given our watchdog role, we are constantly looking out for, and picking faults, in others. Because of this, we sometimes develop a condition whereby we think we are always right, blinding ourselves to other points of view.

We start thinking that we have a monopoly on the truth, assume the moral high ground and become averse to change and criticism. In other words, we fail the society we are supposed to serve.

I will argue, with some trepidation, that we have seen shades of this attitude in the Fiji media landscape.

Since Independence, particularly in the last 25 years, Fiji has become increasingly unstable.

But we are still stuck in the rut of 1970s-style reporting, which places a premium on conflict as a news element.

We inherited our news reporting methods and values from Britain and other European models.

But our country is different from England, and also from Australia and New Zealand for that matter.

Uncompromising and hard-hitting journalism, including hyping up or sensationalizing conflict, may not result in a coup or riots in well-entrenched democracies.

But it can devastate fragile multi-ethnic societies. We have seen some terrible examples of this in some African countries, and Fiji should take lessons from this.

said that for most of the time, successive governments in Fiji have been their worst enemy due to dishonesty and ineptitude.

Commercializing conflict

Traditional news reporting has strengths in exposing corruption, promoting human rights, espousing equality and holding leaders accountable. But there are perceived weaknesses in this model when applied in unstable, multiethnic societies, particularly given the emphasis placed on conflict as a key element of news. In order to boost circulation, media is not averse to hyping up conflict, which has become a highly commercialized commodity in the news reporting business.

In Fiji the media is paradoxically seen as both a champion of democracy and a security threat because of a perceived tendency to either misreport or sensationalize conflict.

Of cats and dogs

Recently Radio Australia reported that there was a general decline in journalistic standards in Fiji, and media was running "dog and cat stories".

I described the report as "superficial" in a media interview.

I said overseas journalists, full of idealism but out of touch with the ground realities in Fiji, were painting an inaccurate picture of the country.

It's nave to judge journalism in Fiji through the Australia and New Zealand prism because the situation here is starkly different - have had a coup, and we have a punitive media law in place.

In the media interview, I posed the question: "What kind of journalism should we practise? "Is it the kind that will lead to the closure of news companies and loss of jobs?" We have to be realistic and strategic, and operate best as we can in the tough environment we are working.

As a colleague said, 'Martyrdom is great, but you do not live to fight the next day'. So survival is important as we wait for better days.

There was a cynical reference in the ABC report about Fiji media reduced to running "cat and dog stories".

This gave the impression that there was no serious reporting being done.

Granted that many things that should be reported are not being reported. But there is stark choices before us - report some things, or report nothing.

The 'cat and dog reference is a revealing one.

It shows what is wrong with journalism today both in Fiji and elsewhere. Unless you are reporting politics, scandals, celebrities or calamities, you are not doing real reporting.

Their situation of cats and dogs in Fiji is shameful and unconscionable.

We should all be having sleepless nights over it. Local media is doing a wonderful job highlighting the plight of these animals, only to get ridiculed for it by the overseas media.

Silver lining

So while the media's situation is not ideal at present, we need to make the best of it. And there are some silver linings in the clouds. For example, political rhetoric by leaders who love to grandstand used to draw journalists like moths to flame, and crowded out some other important news.

Recently however, we have noticed more space being given to social issues.

Media has run some really inspiring stories on sacrifices made by poor parents to put their children through school and university.

The fact that media has been covering and celebrating excellence and achievement in education is wonderful.

Fiji is a poor country. For us education can be a great liberator.

We need to promote education.What is happening in the Fiji media landscape is very interesting. We are redefining notions of 'what is news' and challenging long-held beliefs such as: 'Bad news is good news' and 'if it bleeds, it leads'.

Journalistic standards

Still on the media landscape, in Fiji there is a lot of discussion about journalistic standards.

My view is such discussions should be contextualized and compared with standards in other sectors, services and professions in Fiji.

"What is the standard of doctors and lawyers in Fiji?

How about the quality of our politicians, or the quality of governance? How well has our civil service served the country?

It is best to leave lawyers out of this discussion, but if you do a comparative study, you will find that journalists, who do not charge fees or use taxpayers' money, have not done too badly.

But we can hardly rest on our laurels. Fiji has great needs.

More than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. People are paid a pittance for their labour, and generations remain caught in the poverty trap.

The media can make a difference, therefore it needs to carefully consider its priorities. Journalists, on their part, need to take their jobs seriously.

Fiji not only needs a free media, but also a socially responsible media.

A media less besotted with prominence and conflict, and more committed and devoted to the needs of its people.

It goes without saying that Fiji needs a media free of political influence and manipulation, and unencumbered by excessive government control and persecution.

nShailendra Singh is the head of journalism at the University of South Pacific. This commentary is based on a talk he delivered at the peace journalism workshop hosted by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand, on 4/5 December 2010.

The views expressed in the article are that of the author, and not necessarily of his employer.


Anonymous said...




sara'ssista said...

What drivel, the source of conflict has always been this with the guns, the lack of accountability, the lack consequences from everyone from rebuke and those that went after him. Only the naive can possibly blame the media western reporting style. There was no PER prior to this and they were reporting without favor all of the machinations of all parties. They were accountable, they could be sued, there were injunctions. It was just very inconvenient they started reporting on the military regime, the beatings, 'fascinating back pay issue', the saving of the judiciary etc. That's why. The idea that as result of this regime , rival issues have improved is is still very much simmering under the surface, and as long as there is poverty, it will be going nowhere.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hello Sister of Sarah,
Yes, I agree with you. His paper is softly softly and he leaves out so much, apart from a throw-away line: 'It goes without saying that Fiji needs a media free of political influence and manipulation, and unencumbered by excessive government control and persecution.' He does not develop this point which is crucial to Fiji's journalistic reporting.
I think the 'cats and dogs' reference is very true. In the on-line versions and the hard copy versions, the Fiji papers these days don't have decent opinion pieces which can help us to think about issues.
In this babasiga blog I sometimes pick up on Fiji media stories - mostly related to Vanua levu - and I only wish that the journalists would tease out a story with much more scrutiny instead of writing what they're are 'expected' to write. For example the Bua bauxite mine plan. Surely there are many issues that could be pursued for discussion.

Anonymous said...

Talking about departures, the former publisher of the Fiji Times, Dallas Winstead, seems to have a story to tell, though whether he coughs remains to be seen.

He's posted the following open letter on the blog, Café Pacific, and it makes for interesting reading, though some of what he says, and hints at, is known to us. Note the tone of disenchantment in his letter towards the end.

People keep telling me I’m getting the occasional mention on blogs (which I don’t read). Anyway, it would be a good idea to share with anyone who is interested why I left The Fiji Times.

1. Motibhai, the new local owners of the paper, could not organise insurance nor medical evacuation for me, a requirement of our contract.

2. This became an issue for both them and I and they agreed to pay out the remainder of the work permit, four or five weeks.

3. I am tremendously proud, in fact exhilarated, by what I achieved with the full-blooded co-operation of some 160 The Fiji Times employees, as they embraced the job of resuscitating the newspaper the government intended to close.

4. The newspaper published its editorial charter on October 9 in which we stated that we supported the Prime Minister’s dreams of One Nation One People. We made it clear we would not be kissing arses but nor would we be instinctively kicking them. Like every decent paper in the world, we have kept that promise.

5. The government continues to subsidise the opposition newspaper, the Fiji Sun, with about 3000 pages of advertising a year. In return it publishes verbatim, mostly, all government releases. It is a shameless, even dangerous, publication.

6. Depending on what happens in Fiji in the weeks ahead, I may, or may not, fill in the details of that journey other than to take this opportunity to thank those dozens of the business, academic, legal, diplomatic and public servicemen and women who shared frank and revealing conversations with me about the way Fiji works.

Anonymous said...

In today's Fiji no criticism of the regime is allowed, so creativity, dexterity and skill is needed to get articles past the censors and the message across to the people. Such as in this article, with references like 'survival is important while we wait for BETTER DAYS" and the so-called 'throw-away' line: 'It goes without saying that Fiji needs a media free of political influence and manipulation, and unencumbered by excessive government control and persecution.' Developing this point further could have led to the article not being published at all! THIS IS THE REALITY IN FIJI. Better to get something published, and let people read between the lines, rather than get nothing published.

body harness fall protection said...

This would be the best way for it. We inherited our news reporting methods and values from Britain and other European models. So it is very necessary.