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‘Think outside box’ to cover real stories about social change, says Sayed-Khaiyum

Sayed-Khaiyum ... lessons for Fiji journalists. Photo: Radio Fiji

Sayed-Khaiyum's message for Fiji journalists ... "analyse and question more". Photo: Radio Fiji

Pacific.Scoop
By Nanise Nawalowao in Suva

Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has called on journalists to think outside the box and cover vital stories facing a nation.

He said today journalists needed to be more analytical and investigative on critical issues that were been left out of the media.

“You need to think outside the box and that doesn’t happen much at all,” he said.

“I believe if you’re writing an opinion piece, if you want to analyse and question things, these are the sorts of things you need to be doing.”

Speaking at a seminar organised by the University of the South Pacific’s regional journalism programme, Sayed-Khaiyum said important stories that impacted a lot on a country –  bringing about change to people – were not covered a lot in the media.

Specific areas such as dealing with law making and policymaking, he said.

Instead, the stories were picked up and covered by foreign journalists.

Instigating change
Journalists needed to pose questions that would instigate change and this was an area lacking among local journalists, he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum said the coup in December 2006 took place was because many things needed to be changed in order for the “true principle behind democracy” to be upheld.

He said many of the reforms and changes currently been undertaken by the regime involved issues that had often been overlooked by previous governments. The current government was working to “put things right”.

These were also issues that journalists have “not been able to highlight”.

Laws such as protection of women and children, and laws on pedophilia were examples where Fiji had had no provisions for in the past but were not being covered by the media, considering there had been a number of cases, Sayed-Khaiyum said.

“My question is that I am looking at it from a journalistic angle in terms of your ability, in terms of your freedom to be able to write what you want to write – of course, with the various responsibilities that go with it in terms of defamation,” he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum said another area which “clouded” journalist’s views and perspectives was ethnicity.

Ethnic perspective
Stories were sometimes covered from an ethnic perspective.

“Fiji suffers from it and unfortunately many journalists suffer from it,” he said.

“We have journalists who have a huge fundamental problem with that because they are viewing things from an ethnic perspective.”

A classical example was the disparity in society and the impact certain decisions made by government had on individuals.

On media freedom and the Public Emergency Regulation, Khaiyum said PER was a decree that had been put in place “because of the media”.

“It’s been primarily because of the media because of one or two media outlets. But changes will come about in which we believe the media needs to be held a lot more accountable and be made a lot more responsible,” he said.

The fundamental issue was that “the media at the moment cannot report on politicians”.

‘Sides taken’
Some media outlets in Fiji had been seen to have “taken sides” because of the December 2006 coup, which was something media organisations needed to be clear about.

“While the media are been able to write and criticise on issues, they also have a responsibility to declare [their] interests if [they are] not independent,” he said.

“You cannot hide behind the cloak of being a media outlet and say we don’t have an interest when you do indeed have an interest.”

Journalists needed to ask themselves about their role as a journalist.

He said journalists needed to remember that what was included in a story and what was left out could taint a story that was viewed in a negative light.

“My point is when you’re reporting on something, you must also include pertinent facts that relate to that particular incident or to that fact, otherwise you are being dishonest.”

Sayed-Khaiyum said the fact that Fiji was a developing country and journalists were citizens – they had an obligation to report on and question issues relating to their country.

This was a challenge for aspiring journalists and also a question of ethical values.

On the proposed new media law “promulgation”, he said discussions were currently still under way.

He said the new law would largely involve the Fiji Media Council rules and the ethical practices that need to be adhered by journalists.

Nanise Nawalowao is a student journalist at the University of the South Pacific.