Pacific Media Watch
State to woo media
Title -- FIJI: State to woo media - 1268
Date -- 5 April 1998
Byline -- Arthur McCutchan
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Sunday Times (Fiji), 5 April 1998
Copyright -- Sunday Times
Status -- Unabridged
STATE TO WOO MEDIA: RATU JO
SUVA: Fiji's newly appointed assistant Minister for Information, Ratu Josefa Dimuri has hardly settled into his new office and role, but he has some clear ideas about what he intends to do during his term.
Having been a minister responsible for the same portfolio previously, Ratu Jo is not entirely new to the work. He has also been a journalist, having worked with the Fiji Times and has an understanding of how the media operates.
Above all, Ratu Jo intends to foster better understanding and mutual cooperation between the media and government.
But there are some topics, such as proposed legislation for the media that he prefers not to comment on.
When asked: "What are your views on media legislation?", he replied, "Don't ask me that."
Well, what can you tell us about media legislation?
"Ummm, I haven't seen anything yet on the proposed new legislation so I cannot really comment on that," he answered. Neither will he say anything about cross-ownership of media organisations.
"You're coming up with that one again," he said. Maybe his ideas have changed since he aired his view that foreign-owned interests did not belong in Fiji.
He looked at me and I could hear those cog wheels turning: Shall I answer this question or not? The wheels made one complete revolution. Then another. No answer.
Then finally, one sentence: "I'd rather not comment on that."
Still, ever since the Fiji government decided the country was ready for a permanent television service, it has been against cross-ownership of media organisations. What that means is it doesn't want people who own a newspaper to also own a TV and/or radio station.
"Probably it was one way of trying to avoid a monopoly situation in as far as the media as a whole is concerned," Ratu Jo said.
His appointment two weeks ago did not surprise him but neither was he expecting it. At the press conference to announce that Ratu Jo was taking over the Information portfolio, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the ministry had not been performing its duties.
"I really do not wish to cast aspersions on any particular person, but it could be that he was not satisfied with the way the ministry was conducting itself in the dissemination of information that the people of this country have every right to access to," Ratu Jo said.
It is his job now to correct and put to rest the PM's concern - "to be proactive".
He has been asked by both the prime minister and his immediate superior, Senator Filipe Bole, the Cabinet Minister responsible for Information, to try to develop a genuine partnership with the media so that the ministry can effectively convey what the government has been doing in the past seven years.
Adding to that, Ratu Jo said a lot of things that the government had been doing was not being explicitly explained, particularly the good things.
"Government relies a lot on the media to reach the people and I think it's very simple - it's just a matter of government and media orgabisations talking to each other and building up that relationship," he said.
"I know as a journalist that bad news, and the media does not always give priority to good developmental news that we in the ministry often give out from the government.
"The priority of media organisations is profit-making rather than disseminating information. That is probably why we are having difficulty in getting news of good things government is doing conveyed to thepeople - your priorities do not match our priorities."
In the 1998 Budget, the Ministry of Finance also released a list of points to measure the performance of each government ministry. According to that, one of the things the Ministry of Information has to to do is ensure that 50 per cent of the local news is positive.
"My interpretation of positive news is news that contributes to national development and propsperity," he said.
That is why he will be trying his best to develop that partnership with the media - as a former journalist he knows the power the media can wield over the public.
"It is also a moral obligation on the part of the media to work in close liaison with government because of the advantage that you have in reaching out to the people," he said.
"I don't really know whose fault it is that we were not able to reach the public as much as we would have liked, whether it was the media for choosing to report it, or the ministry for not doing its part in informing the media.
"There could have been a communication breakdown somewhere that needs to be rectified and I would very much like to see that done. Quickly," he said.
He has a lot of friends in the media and though at times they do not always see eye to eye, he still feels they are prepared to work closely with him.
"All journalists are vested with a very, very important responsibility and therefore I believe it is important that they be guided by a code of ethics in the conduct of their work.
"There has been a lot of change in the profession since I was a journalist."
In his time, they did not have the exposure and training that journalists enjoy today. They did not have access to the Internet, they did not even have computers.
They had to "struggle with those old junk typewriters" and he remembers with a warm feeling the rattling noises they used to make, especially as deadline time approached.
"But now the atmosphere of the newsroom has changed completely and that has sort of contributed to all the improvement of the overall standard of journalism. To some extent.
"I think the various journalists organisations should also be commended for taking up the initiative of promoting training among its members.
"I refer in particular to the Pacific Islands News Association, the Fiji Journalists Association and now the Journalism Training Institute. These have helped standards in general."
But while media organisations are becoming increasingly computerised, Ratu Jo says, each ought to take into account the country's cultural diversity and be sensitive to this when reporting on cultural matters.
"We cannot really compare ourselves to the Western world. We are a society that is very much culturally sensitive and I think it is incumbent on the part of the media to respect the deep observance of culture by various ethnic communities."
"I believe so. Yes. If that can be inculcated in the training curriculum that we have for journalists here in Fiji, I think it would do us good in as far as that aspect of our lives is concerned."
His priority now is to try and develop that good rapport with the press.
"I believe that the government needs the media to effectively communicate to the people what it is doing," he said.
"Right now we are at a criticical state and I only hope that the media will reciprocate the intent that I have."
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire-Media, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.
© 1996-98 Copyright - All rights reserved. Items are provided solely for review purposes as a non-profit educational service. Copyright remains the property of the original producers as indicated. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright owner for any publishing. Copyright owners not wishing their materials to be posted by PMW please contact us. The views expressed in material listed by PMW are not necessarily the views of PMW or its members. Recipients should rely on their own inquiries before making decisions based on material listed in PMW. Please copy appeals to PMW and acknowledge source.
For further information, inquiries about joining the Pacific Media Watch listserve, articles for publication, and giving feedback contact Pacific Media Watch at:
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax: (+679) 30 5779 or (+612) 9660 1804
Mail: PO Box 9, Annandale, NSW 2038, Australia
or, c/o Journalism, PO Box 1168, Suva, Fiji
Return to Pacific Media Watch