Pacific Media Centre Pacific Media Watch Pacific Journalism Review Pacific Scoop

Volume 13, Issue 2

Media and digital democracy
September, 2007

Cartoon: © Malcolm Evans

September, 2007

ISSN: 1023-9499

In this issue…

Military blamed over rash of post-coup political blogs


A senior Fiji journalist believes the military is partly responsible for the number of political blogs that have expanded the media landscape in Fiji since the fourth coup in December last year.

Sophie Foster, a former deputy editor of The Fiji Times, says blogs flourished because of the restrictions the military had placed on dissenting opinion in the mainstream media and across the nation in general.

A postgraduate student in Pacific media studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Foster said that while some blog content was racist, defamatory, provocative and irresponsible, the argument for a free, responsible press was also strengthened as an option worth maintaining in any society.

Her article, entitled, “Who let the blogs out? Media and free speech in post-coup Fiji”, is published in the latest Pacific Journalism Review. The edition has been jointly produced by the University of the South Pacific journalism programme and AUT University's Pacific Media Centre.

Foster says that in a climate where sources of information were running dry, mainstream media were under fire and the military not averse to “repatriotising” outspoken critics, blogs came into their own.

“Blogs presented a platform through which anti-takeover views could be aired publicly, anonymously and without restriction,” she writes.

“In effect, by cracking down on media and freedom of expression, the military had unleashed the blogs - and its subsequent public relations nightmare was worse than anything that could have been delivered under a fully functioning free press.”

This article uses qualitative research methods to gauge changes in the media environment in Fiji as a result of the country’s fourth coup.

Based on interviews with media executives and a survey of working journalists, the report assesses the impact of military repression of dissenting views on the press, the subsequent rise in anonymous political blogs and the type of content they delivered.

Foster’s research found that newsroom managers were very aware that the media environment was not a free one and that staff needed extra protection.

Among crucial measures taken during the period were attempts to reduce the unpredictability of the military response to criticism.

Although editors from all six organisations said they received phone calls from soldiers over any anti-military stories they published, the Fiji newsroom survey she conducted earlier found most of these had ceased by May 3.

While the blogs were initially welcomed, the publisher of the Fiji Sun, Russell Hunter, said that blogs and journalism did not share ideals.

“The basic ideals of journalism are accuracy and credibility. You achieve that by being accountable to your readership. Blogs are not accountable to their readership because nobody knows who they are,” said Hunter.

The Fiji Media Council chairman, Daryl Tarte, acknowledged that blogs were a growing phenomenon that the mainstream Fiji media would eventually have to deal with but refused to give anonymous blogs any credibility:

“Blogs that are properly signed and sourced probably have got a place in journalism,” he said.

Foster concludes that the rise of blogs had shown that in the digital age, the press does not have to be the only champion of freedom of expression.


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