‘One for the ages’: Historical day for Fijian journalism as ‘draconian’ media law scrapped

Rakesh Kumar, left, Fred Wesley, middle, from The Fiji Times, and Samantha Magick from Islands Business. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

Rakesh Kumar, left, Fred Wesley, middle, from The Fiji Times, and Samantha Magick from Islands Business. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

The Fijian Parliament has voted to kill a draconian media law in Suva on Thursday, sending newsrooms across the country into celebrations.

29 parliamentarians voted to repeal the Media Industry Development Act, while 21 voted against it and 3 did not vote.

The law – which started as a decree in 2010 – has been labelled as a “noose around the neck of the media industry and journalists” since it was enacted into law.

While the opposition FijiFirst parliamentarians voted against the bill, Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Biman Prasad said binning the act will be good for the people and for democracy.

Removing the controversial law was a major election promise by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s coalition government.

Emotional day for newsrooms

The news was “one for the ages for us”, The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, who was dragged into court on multiple occasions by the former government under the act, told RNZ Pacific in Vanuatu.

He said today was about all the Fijian media workers who stayed true to their profession.

“People who slugged it out, people who remained passionate about their work and continued disseminating information and getting people to make well-informed decision on a daily basis.”

“It wasn’t an easy journey, but truly thankful for today,” an emotional Wesley said.

“We are in an era where we don’t have draconian legislation hanging over our heads.”

He said the entire industry was happy and newsrooms are now looking forward to the next chapter.

“The next phases is the challenge of putting together a Fiji media council to do the work of listening to complaints and all of that, and I’m overwhelmed and very grateful.”

He said people in Fiji should continue expect for the media to do what it is supposed to do: “Holding government to account, holding our leaders to account and making sure that they’re responsible in the decisions they make.”

Fiji Media Act repealed on Thursday. 6 April 2023

The Fiji Times editor Fred Wesley and Islands Business editor Samantha Magick embrace each other after finding out the the Fijian Parliament has repealed the MIDA Act. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

Journalists can be brave

Islands Business Magazine editor Samantha Magick said getting rid of the law means it will now create an environment for Fijian journalists to do more critical journalism.

“I think [we will] see less ‘he said, she said’ reporting in very controlled environments,” Magick said.

“Fiji’s media will see more investigations, more depth, more voices, different perspectives, [and] hopefully they can engage a bit more as well without fear.”

“It’ll just be so much healthier for us as a people and democracy to have that level of debate and investigation and questioning, regardless of who you are,” she added.

RNZ Pacific senior sports journalist and PINA board member Iliesa Tora said the parliament’s decision sends a strong message to the rest of the region.