Report – By Alex Perrottet in Suva
Fiji’s Constitutional Commission has improved freedom of expression and has been a “breath of fresh air”, says a Fiji academic and former journalist.
Speaking at the Media and Democracy Symposium at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji National University lecturer in ethics and governance Mosmi Bhim gave an update on the commission and stressed her study was a “work in progress”.
Regarding the new constitution, she said it “seems to be on track” and “hopefully we will have a truly democratic system with free and fair elections in 2014”.
However, she put some hard questions to the government, saying “restrictive laws are still in place”, such as a lack of ability to hold the government to account.
“If we cannot take court action against those in power, it seriously restricts our freedoms,” she said.
Fiji Village has since reported that Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum defended those comments, and said there are many current actions against the government.
Bhim, a journalism graduate of the University of the South Pacific, said the constitution had helped freedom of expression through the media.
Highlighting both sides
“The media is highlighting the views of both sides. A few months back these views would not have been published,” she said.
But she said self-censorship in the media was leaving an impact on the quality of the news: “Our news is very dry, not very exciting because of that.”
She also sounded a warning about what might happen when the commission’s work is completed.
“Will these freedoms continue after the Constitutional Commission is finished? Is this a temporary freedom?”
She confirmed people were bringing up issues that the commission could not deal with, such as workers’ issues with wages, and problems such as poverty.
And she confirmed that despite the government encouraging people to come forward, many did not feel it was safe to do so.
“Why didn’t these people go to the authorities? Why did they go to the Constitutional Commission? Perhaps it shows that people see the commission as a ray of hope for them.
“So many people have been flocking to make submissions, but some are not airing their views. For example, business people, civil servants. Many people I know, friends and relatives, don’t air their views because they don’t feel free to do so.”
She also warned that there needs to be more political actors standing up to take part in the emerging democracy.
“New political actors are not emerging in Fiji,” she said. “This is raising some worry”.
Alex Perrottet is contributing editor for Pacific Media Watch and was at the Media and Democracy conference.