Me­dia free­dom is your free­dom


AS a joint en­ter­prise, hu­man rights and me­dia are cru­cial is­sues in any coun­try at any given time. Achiev­ing hu­man rights is a con­stant strug­gle be­cause they cover a wide field and the is­sues at stake can be quite com­plex.

Me­dia are a core part of the hu­man rights move­ment and jour­nal­ists are hu­man rights de­fend­ers.

Whether it is a news­pa­per, tele­vi­sion or ra­dio, you are bound to come across hu­man rights-re­lated sto­ries on a fre­quent ba­sis.

Jour­nal­ists may not fully un­der­stand the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of hu­man rights as a hu­man rights ex­pert might, but we cover them none­the­less, even if we don’t al­ways iden­tify or recog­nise some­thing as a hu­man rights sub­ject mat­ter.

Me­dia lever­age hu­man rights through their reach and power to in­form and in­flu­ence the masses. We sup­ply oxy­gen to hu­man rights by cre­at­ing aware­ness and in­spir­ing ac­tion.

For ex­am­ple, the Ton­gan me­dia were a ma­jor part of the na­tional democ­racy move­ment. With­out the me­dia, the road to democ­racy would have been far more dif­fi­cult.

So “me­dia free­dom is your free­dom” is not just a fancy slo­gan.

The ma­jor rights that me­dia up­hold are free speech and the right to be seen and heard. If one is not seen or heard, one is ren­dered in­vis­i­ble and in­signif­i­cant.

One ma­jor chal­lenge for the me­dia is the be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of hu­man rights breaches that are hap­pen­ing.

What to cover, and how, when there are so many other ur­gent pri­or­i­ties in any given day—when time is lim­ited and re­sources stretched?

I would start by iden­ti­fy­ing the most press­ing hu­man rights breaches in my coun­try.

For ex­am­ple, vi­o­lence against women has been de­scribed as “the most per­va­sive, yet least recog­nised hu­man rights abuse in the world”.

What is the sit­u­a­tion in Fiji and the Pa­cific?

Re­port af­ter re­port shows that the Pa­cific has the world’s worst do­mes­tic vi­o­lence rates. It is quite wide­spread, but is this re­flected in our news me­dia or not? We don’t know for sure.

What we do no­tice is a surge in cov­er­age when a woman dies or suf­fers grue­some in­juries. Then that cov­er­age dis­si­pates back to nor­mal.

Gen­er­ally, me­dia re­port do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as crime sto­ries, through po­lice and court re­ports. Such sto­ries can be use­ful as a de­ter­rent, but they have their lim­i­ta­tions when it comes to a deeper un­der­stand­ing of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and how to deal with it.

Be­sides ret­ro­spec­tive cov­er­age, we need in­tro­spec­tive and preemp­tive cov­er­age.

For in­stance, we should not over­look in­sti­tu­tion-build­ing as one of the best ways to pro­tect and up­hold hu­man rights.

The Fiji Women’s Cri­sis Cen­tre is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of a strong in­sti­tu­tion that is a bea­con for help­less women. Be­sides a pow­er­ful voice, it is shel­ter for bru­talised women.

The ques­tion is, are the me­dia pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to in­sti­tu­tion build­ing or fo­cus­ing on one-off in­ci­dents?

This is where hu­man rights work­shops tar­get­ing jour­nal­ists are cru­cial: as I was say­ing ear­lier, we jour­nal­ists are not hu­man rights ex­perts in the tech­ni­cal sense.

In the Pa­cific jour­nal­ists are jacks of all trades by ne­ces­sity.

But, we do not need to be ex­perts—we just have to talk to the ex­perts.

Much of the re­search and writ­ing on hu­man rights has al­ready been done by the ex­perts in the field.

Our job is to con­vert th­ese re­ports into strong news sto­ries and com­pelling fea­ture ar­ti­cles, to be dis­sem­i­nated as far and wide as pos­si­ble. That is our spe­cialty.

For ex­am­ple, yet an­other re­cent re­port ex­posed the ter­ri­fy­ing scale of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the re­gion.

How much cov­er­age did it get? Talk­ing of in­sti­tu­tions, the Hu­man Rights Mea­sure­ment Ini­tia­tive is a unique col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture be­tween hu­man rights prac­ti­tion­ers, re­searchers and aca­demics based in Welling­ton, New Zealand.

Un­der the lead­er­ship of co­founders Anne-Marie Brook and Chad Clay, they pro­duce met­rics for the full range of rights in the In­ter­na­tional Bill of Hu­man Rights.

Did their re­port on Fiji get suf­fi­cient cov­er­age?

So far we have looked at me­dia as the up­hold­ers of hu­man rights.

But the me­dia, which are sworn to up­hold rights, can also be the vi­o­la­tors of hu­man rights through ne­glect­ful and/or un­eth­i­cal cov­er­age.

There were many ap­palling eth­i­cal and le­gal vi­o­la­tions in the re­port­ing of the killings of Fiji Red Cross So­ci­ety di­rec­tor-gen­eral John Scott and his part­ner, Gre­gory Scrivener, in 2001.

In Samoa, there was pub­lic re­vul­sion against a na­tional news­pa­per that pub­lished a photo of a dead trans­gen­der woman who had com­mit­ted suicide on the front page.

But most of the me­dia trans­gres­sions are not in­ten­tional. They are usu­ally com­mit­ted by in­ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists who lack train­ing.

In the Samoa case, it was found that there were no clear guide­lines for re­port­ing sui­cides or trans­gen­der is­sues.

Some Pa­cific me­dia treat suicide like crime re­port­ing, with full details. They can also fuel ho­mo­pho­bia by air­ing big­oted views with­out re­but­tals.

Given the lack of train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Pa­cific jour­nal­ists, th­ese types of hu­man rights work­shops are cru­cial, and I com­mend the Pa­cific Com­mu­nity’s Re­gional Rights Re­source Team for or­gan­is­ing it.

Such train­ing, if held on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, is sure to im­prove hu­man rights cov­er­age in the Pa­cific. For­mer The Fiji Times jour­nal­ist, Dr Shailen­dra Singh, is the head of the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pa­cific Jour­nal­ism Pro­gram in Suva. This col­umn is based on a pre­sen­ta­tion at the Pa­cific Com­mu­nity’s Re­gional Rights Re­source Team “Cul­ti­vat­ing Me­dia Re­la­tion­ships Lunch” on Septem­ber 13, 2019 in Suva. The views ex­pressed in this col­umn are not nec­es­sar­ily shared by the USP or this news­pa­per.


The Fiji Times ed­i­tor-in-chief Fred Wesley speaks at a panel dis­cus­sion dur­ing the World Press Free­dom Day fo­rum at the Suva Busi­ness Cen­tre on May 3 this year.

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