Media freedom

THE world’s biggest non-governmental organisation specialising in the defence of media freedom recently ranked Fiji 67 out of 180 countries where the media freedom situation was of grave concern.

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders highlighted the scale and variety of the obstacles to media freedom throughout the world — North Korea sitting at 180th position, its totalitarian regime keeping its citizens in a state of ignorance and fear of being sent to a concentration camp for listening to radio broadcasts from outside the country.

While Fiji was the lowest ranked Pacific Island country compared with Samoa (21), Tonga (49) and Papua New Guinea (51), its ranking of 67 was an improvement from 80 in 2016 and 93 in 2015.

The report stated the adoption of the 2013 Constitution and 2014 general election had a positive impact on access to information for Fiji but claims the media was still restricted by the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree and the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).

The report then makes the gloomy conclusion that there is no desire to restore media freedom in Fiji, an opinion that will definitely spark a lot of interest and debate about the role and responsibilities of the media in a democratic society.

Globally, the media has long been seen as the Fourth Estate or fourth arm, an important element in keeping a nation informed about the workings of the other three arms of government and keeping those powers in check to ensure there is no abuse in the democratic process.

The media plays a vital role in creating a well-informed society, well-informed citizens who are able to make simple, everyday decisions with information that is disseminated and presented to them in a balanced, fair or transparent and accurate manner.

Thus the huge challenge for journalists and media presenters to remain steadfast, unbiased and neutral in the face of adversity and in the work they do within the confines of the law.

In this fast-changing world, issues such as media legislations, conflict, war, terrorism, the impact of fake news, safety, competition and ethical dilemmas often hinder the work of media workers, which is a reason why critical minds are needed for critical times.

This challenge has become UNESCO’s theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day on May 3, which would dwell on the importance of free and fact-based journalism in promoting peace and justice in our country.

We can all play a part in that peace process by staying true to our moral values of honesty and integrity.

The way we behave, interact and treat our neighbours and those from different backgrounds can go a long way to achieving the kind of society we want for our children, for the future and hopefully be an example of what communal unity and togetherness can achieve.

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