The much talked about draft Media Industry Development Decree was unveiled to the stakeholders today which sees laws dealing with the establishment of a Media Industry Development Authority, a Media Tribunal, ownership of all Fiji media to be 90 percent locally owned and cross-media ownership in Fiji.
The draft decree also has a Media Code of Ethics and Practice, the Advertising Codes and a Television Programme Classification Code.
The draft Media Decree clearly states that every media organisation in Fiji should have 90 percent local ownership which means that 90 percent of shares of any media organisation in Fiji should be owned by citizens of Fiji permanently residing in Fiji.
10 percent of the media ownership can be foreign.
It also states that in the case of a company, all directors and in the case of any legal entity, partnership, and joint venture and of any individual shall respectively be citizens of Fiji permanently residing in Fiji.
Under the draft decree, "permanently residing" means a person residing in Fiji for 5 out of the last 7 years prior to registration of the media outlet and thereafter residing in Fiji for at least 9 out of 12 months of a year.
The draft Media Decree states that any person who does not fall within the class of persons described must resign or divest themselves of any directorship or ownership interest within three months from the commencement of the decree.
This raises a major issue for the Fiji Times newspaper which is totally foreign owned.
If the decree is implemented in it's current form, it means that current Fiji Times owners would have to sell off 90 percent of their shares to locals.
Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum who chaired the Media Decree consultations in Suva today has told Fijivillage that they have carefully considered the media ownership issue and find it necessary that controlling shares for media companies in Fiji should be held by locals.
Sayed-Khiayum said this is nothing new as other countries also have media laws restricting foreign control.
A Media Development Authority will also be established when the decree is implemented.
The Authority is expected to ensure that all the media outlets in Fiji are adhering to the Code of Ethics and Practices, and encourages, promotes and facilitates the development of media organisations and services in Fiji.
The Director of the Authority shall be appointed by the Minister responsible.
The draft decree also has a section on Content Regulation which deals with penalties.
This section states that the content of any media service must not include material which is against the public interest or order, is against national interest, offends against good taste or decency or creates communal discord.
The section further states that the content of any print media must include a byline and wherever practical, the content of any other media service must include a byline.
It further states that a breach of any of the provisions under the section Content Regulation by a media organisation shall constitute an offence and the media organisation shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 500 thousand dollars or in the case of a publisher or editor or journalist a fine not exceeding 100 thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.
Several offences in relation to breach of the Media Code of Ethics, and offences under the draft Media Decree carry maximum fines for media organisations of 500 thousand dollars and maximum prison sentences of 5 years.
For the offending journalist, editor or publisher, the maximum fines for many offences are 100 thousand dollars and the maximum prison sentence is 5 years.
A number of the media stakeholders who attended the consultations raised the issue in relation to the penalties.
Some suggested that the maximum fines and prison sentences should be reduced and that only the media organisation should be fined, not the journalist editor or publisher concerned.
Some individuals said they were happy with the maximum penalties.
Sayed-Khaiyum said they will reassess the matter but there are no definite changes at this stage as consultations are still underway.
A number of issues that have been part of the Fiji Media Council Code of Ethics has been included in the section dealing with Media Code of Ethics and Practice.
These include, accuracy, balance and fairness, opportunity to reply, privacy, harassment and pursuit and discrimination.
It also sets a clear code for media organisations not to interview or photograph a child in the absence of, or without the consent of a parent or other adult responsible for the child.
It also deals with children not to be approached by media organisations, interviewed or photographed at school without the permission of school authorities.
The Code also sets clear guidelines on ensuring that victims of sexual assault cases are not further victimized in media reports.
The draft decree also makes it clear that the Media Tribunal makes the final decision on any complaints and hands down its ruling.
The decree and the Media Tribunal's rulings cannot be challenged in any court, tribunal or commission.