The Multinational Observer Group for the 2022 General Elections has noted that despite a relatively robust industry, many media stakeholders expressed to them that the environment in 2022 was more restrictive than in 2018.
In their final report, the MOG says stakeholders said that this had led to a culture of self-censorship amongst journalists due to the severe consequences of statutory default.
It says stakeholders also noted the onerous requirements for publishing opinion polls, which resulted in no polls being published since legislation was introduced on the subject in August 2022.
The MOG observed that reports from stakeholders of a more restricted media environment are consistent with Fiji’s recent decline in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
Fiji was ranked 57 out of 180 countries for press freedoms in 2018 but fell to 102 in 2022 – its lowest ranking since 2014 and making it the lowest ranked Pacific country. The MOG spoke to a range of media organisations that said they were committed to reporting the news as they saw it.
However, they were advised that there was a culture of self-censorship especially among younger journalists.
The say most media sources advised that the potential for - and severity of - penalties under the MIDA Act was a cause of significant concern.
This was despite the fact that it was widely acknowledged that MIDA is effectively non-operational and some of its elections related functions have been effectively taken over by the Supervisor of Elections.
The MOG heard from a range of media organisations that uncertainty and confusion about the application of the legal framework impacted on their willingness to report on some issues.
They recommended to review the Media Industry Development Authority of Fiji’s mandate and operations and relevant procedures to create greater certainty and clarity for media organisations.
They have said to review the operation of media blackout requirement in the law and provide greater clarity through published guidelines.
The MOG has also recommended to review the appropriateness of the Electoral Guidelines guidelines on the conduct of opinion polls and their effective constraint on the media’s ability to contribute to public discourse and political accountability.
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