Elections reporting workshop for USP student journalists
USP Journalism staff and students with Dr Shailendra Singh (seated left), The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley (seated middle) and Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal (seated right) last week. Picture: ELIKI DRUGUNALEVU
By GERALDINE PANAPASA
Journalists play an important role in disseminating credible and balanced information that will assist and empower the masses to make well-informed decisions come elections, says The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley.
During the USP Journalism-Dialogue Fiji workshop on Reporting Fiji’s 2022 General Election last Friday, Wesley said there were many issues covered by the media in the lead up to elections, however, it was important for journalists to be mindful of their role and responsibilities in disseminating information.
“Understandably we are governed by laws on how we disseminate information. As a media organisation that prides itself in delivering credible and balanced news, we, like every other media in the country, are prepared for the general election,” said Wesley, who was keynote speaker at the workshop at USP’s School of Pacific Arts, Communication and Education (SPACE), Laucala campus.
“Our job is about assisting the masses. It’s about giving them information that can assist them to make well-informed decisions every day, everything from profiles of aspiring candidates, political parties, plans and manifestos and awareness of issues.
“It’s also about encouraging participation in the electoral process. Election is an important event for any nation. For us as a media organisation, what matters is that important tick at election time, how we decide our future and the cause the nation takes.
“What matters is appreciating and understanding the role we can play in making things happen for us as a nation.”
Wesley said the workshop for final-year USP journalism students covering elections this year had put the spotlight on factors that impinged on an even electoral playing field, given importance of news media in disseminating electoral info and shaping public opinion.
USP Journalism Programme coordinator Dr Shailendra Singh said the workshop was the first hands-on preparation for journalism students reporting on elections for Wansolwara, the student training newspaper and online publications.
During his presentation on the National Media Reporting of the 2018 Fijian General Elections, a study that examined how the Fiji media treated different political parties and candidates in 2018 elections, Dr Singh said the media provided a template to form political opinions and make electoral choices.
“The media also has the capacity to influence electoral outcomes, which made them an important stakeholder in electoral processes,” he said.
Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal presented on the electoral system and processes in Fiji, noting that an electoral system was the manner in which votes are translated into seats, and this comprised broad democratic principles and specific elements related to design mechanics.
He said the 2022 General Elections would be Fiji’s third elections under the new electoral system, which features the Open List PR system established through provisions of the 2013 Constitution, and Electoral Act 2014.
“Election can be held any time until January 9, 2023. If the Writ of Elections is not issued by 26 November, 2022, the parliament will automatically dissolve (expire),” Mr Lal shared.
“Writ needs to be issued within seven days of the expiry of parliament. Elections need to be held no later than 44 days following writ issue.”
He said front runners for the upcoming general elections appeared to be the incumbent FijiFirst Party and newly-formed challenger party, People’s Alliance led by former prime minister and Opposition Leader, Sitiveni Rabuka.
“Opinion polls show no party having a clear majority. Prime Minister Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party achieved an absolute majority in the last elections by 0.02% of votes.
“In the event that no party wins an absolute majority, a hung parliament will be the result, and a multi-party coalition government on the cards,” Mr Lal said.
The Fijian Elections Office (FEO) has so far registered eight political parties, however, Mr Lal said not all parties were expected to field a full complement of candidates.
As of September 3, the FEO has recorded 689,974 registered voters and 1468 polling venues.