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MIDA orders Fiji Television to apologise over chief’s ‘hate’ speech


A live audio report of MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj’s press conference today in Suva. Multimedia: PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Anna Majavu

The Fiji state-controlled Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) has ruled that a Fiji Television is guilty of “hate speech” and could be fined for broadcasting a public meeting at which politicians spoke.

MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj said at a press conference in Suva today he was taking legal advice about the kind of fines that he might levy against Fiji One News, and that the television station would have to issue a public retraction after he ruled that the TV station was in breach of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) decree.

Fiji faces a general election to restore democratic rule on September 17.

Ratu Timoci Vesikula

Ratu Timoci Vesikula pictured in a still from the controversial Fiji One News item. Image: Fiji TV

Fiji One News recently broadcast a public meeting at which Verata chief Ratu Timoci Vesikula first asked Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama for guarantees that his community’s land would be protected, and then told Bainimarama that race was still a “fact of life” in Fiji.

Without the support of the country’s indigenous people, Bainimarama would “never return to power after the general elections”, Ratu Timoci said.

Ratu Timoci also said certain sections of the population (which according to Fairfax , implied Indo-Fijian) would want to appease and pacify Bainimarama just to have their aspirations met.

The Fiji Times quoted Ratu Timoci telling Bainimarama that indigenous Fijians “were living in poverty” and “simply living in a bad state”.

Ratu Timoci was also guilty of “hate speech”, said Raj, as he had contravened the 2009 Crimes Decree provisions which barred anyone from “urging political violence”. The maximum fine for this is 10 years in prison.

A video of the meeting has been uploaded to Facebook and is in wide circulation.

Official complaint
After the meeting, Bainimarama laid an official complaint against Fiji One News, which MIDA said it would investigate.

Apart from announcing that the investigation had found that Vesikula’s statements amounted to hate speech, Raj hit out at the media for giving “unfettered prominence” to Ratu Timoci’s speech.

Ratu Timoci had said that different races in Fiji were “like water and kerosene”, Raj said.

He said Ratu Timoci had “breached the bill of rights” by casting slurs on Indo-Fijians and that his statements amounted to him “threatening racial hatred”.

Raj denied that he was impinging on the freedom of the media by ruling against Fiji One News and said the TV station should not have broadcast information likely to “promote communal discord”.

He told journalists that their “subjectivities” should not get in the way of their work, and lashed out at journalists from different media houses for writing “unsubstantiated statements”.

Raj said he was not a “lackey of the regime” and said that “laws need to be respected at all times”. He warned the assembled journalists that there would be “consequences” if they did not adhere to Fiji’s media decrees.

Warning to politicians
He also said that the MIDA investigation would serve as a warning to other politicians who might want to make similar statements to Ratu Timoci in the months leading up to the election.

Raj again lashed out at “freelance” journalists who had not registered with the government, saying if they did not register with MIDA soon, he would seek recourse against them in line with the media decrees.

The freelance journalists “distort a ton of things” and were guilty of “sheer recklessness”.

“I have to deal with that. They cannot be the law and the transgression” he said, labelling the freelance journalists as “rogue elements”.

No journalist could operate in Fiji without registering, or else they would face fines of up to F$100,000. Raj also said the government had spent a lot of money on workshopping journalists on issues like hate speech and that it was about time the media “got the hang of it”.

“The media industry in this country needs to grow up,” Raj said.

Even members of the public, and not just the media, needed to be “very, very careful” about how they conducted themselves, Raj said.

MIDA, which was established by a military order, has been in the news lately for announcing that three New Zealand and Australian journalists would remain banned from Fiji because of alleged negative reporting on the regime.

Source: Pacific Media Watch 8540

The full MIDA ruling against Fiji One News