Faculty of Arts, Law and Education

Media symposium

Date: October, 16, 2012 00:00 Age: 8 yrs

Journalism and media scholars from around the Pacific flocked to Suva in early September for USP’s two-day symposium on Media and Democracy in the South Pacific. The gathering at the Japan Pacific ICT Multipurpose Theatre heard spirited discussions on both the practice and teaching of journalism. The situation in Fiji was a topic of particular interest with the lifting in January of censorship under the Public Emergency Regulation and the 2010 Media Decree now regulating news media content. Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns urged journalists in her opening remarks to “report fully and without fear or favour” and to not use the Media Decree “as an excuse not to do their jobs.” Fiji journalists, symposium organizer Marc Edge told attendees, had been reluctant to sit on a panel titled “Fiji Journalism under the PER and Media Decree,” with only the Fiji Sun agreeing to send a panelist. The other two spots were filled by lawyers for Fiji TV and the Fiji Times. Radio journalist Vijay Narayan, however, made a comment from the audience. "Everyone who is commenting on claims that there is widespread self-censorship in the country are making comments without any proper surveys conducted with journalists and media outlets,” he said. Fiji Times lawyer Richard Naidu took issue with that notion. “To suggest that the media is not operating under a set of self-censorship rules means that one of us is on the wrong planet.”

The other hot topic of discussion was journalism education, with Edge telling the symposium he had been brought in as USP’s Discipline Co-ordinator of Journalism to raise the level of instruction in the subject to “international standards.” Former USP Journalism programme heads David Robie and Shailendra Singh both took issue with the claim that it needed improving. “It is not year zero, and you need to understand the local context,” said Singh, who is currently on study leave in Australia. “If you come with the wrong attitude you put a lot of people off, and then it’s a very bad start.” USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Esther Williams, however, stressed the need for better journalism in Fiji in her opening address to the symposium. “Reports in the print media are riddled with editorial mistakes, they grow shorter and shorter, while those in our news broad-casts are even shorter and the quality of English is pretty poor,” she said.

In his keynote address, Professor Robert Hackett of Simon Fraser University in Canada discussed the role  of journalism in a democratic society. “There are different models of democracy,” he pointed out, “each with different expectations of how journalism should function, what their ethical principles and practices should be and what legal framework best supports it.” The symposium wound up with a debate between USP Journalism students and a team from the Faculty of Business and Economics on the topic “Press Freedom is Essential to the Future of Democracy in the South Pacific.” The more experienced FBE team won on the judges’ scorecards, but the more passionate Journalism team won the popular vote of the audience. Fiji TV’s public affairs programme “Close Up” devoted its entire episode to the symposium the following Sunday, including a segment on the debate.

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