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Debate 'refreshing'

Tevita Vuibau
Sunday, May 04, 2014

WORLD Press Freedom Day was marked at the University of the South Pacific with testy and fiery but nonetheless thought provoking discussions.

The day was marked with a panel discussion chaired by Business Melanesia editor Stanley Simpson and had journalists Seona Smiles, Republika Magazine editor Ricardo Morris, Sun Business editor Rachna Lal, former The Fiji Times editor Netani Rika and MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj. Much of the flak was aimed at the MIDA chairman and the Fiji Sun however the panellists agreed the panel had opened up space for more discourse on media freedom and the elections.

Discussions focused around the role of the media in the lead up to elections and also the fear of persecution felt by journalists when trying to be critical.

"It was refreshing, after such a long time, to debate issues relating to media freedom and I think that more of these kinds of events should be held." Republika editor Ricardo Morris said.

"And there is still a lot more to be done to change the mind-set as there was a mention of a lot of the fear that still pervades the work we do and I actually think it is true, anyone who denies that is kidding themselves."

However, MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj said he was adamant that there was no fear though he did acknowledge the discussions had gotten testy.

"It was supposed to be heated because people felt insecurity that there was a sense of, and a climate of insecurity and censorship."

"I'm glad that people came and if there was any kind of myth behind any of these things, I'd hope I was able to dispel them."

The audience and panellists also heard from banned Australian journalist Sean Dorney who said Fiji stood out as an example of the most restrained and repressed media in the Pacific.

Panellist Seona Smiles acknowledged that some of the panellists had taken a blasting from the audience but added that there were new things learnt by all.

"I think it actually provided an opportunity for a free exchange of opinions and I think the Sun and MIDA got a bit of a bashing justifiably in some cases. And it did allow MIDA and the Sun to put their position which is good because I learnt things today and I think that the media and how it operates in Fiji is of great concern to people in Fiji particularly in the context of the elections."

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