This is an edited transcript of the speech given by Australian Press Council member, Chris McLeod to a Fiji Media Council-sponsored seminar at the University of the South Pacific last night on World Media Freedom Day. The theme of the day was Media Freedom in a State of Emergency.
The point I want to make here is that legislative attempts to enshrine media freedoms in law are a double-edged sword. The dialectic of the front page is clearly shown in the examples mentioned here.
For example, the real purpose of a law to guarantee freedom of speech and media accountability in Zimbabwe is to guarantee that the government of Robert Mugabe can stifle criticism by both local and international journalists.
In Fiji, under military law and a declared ‘state of emergency’ is also a case in point. The repeated attacks on journalists, including detention, intimidation and physical beatings are excused by the military as necessary to maintain good order. The real purpose is, of course, to stifle dissent and criticism.
Unfortunately the Australian government turns a blind eye to such maneouvering when it’s regional interests are seen to be supported by draconian regimes.
Intimidation of journalists via judicial and legislative means is the dark side of arguments in favour of government ‘guarantees’ of media freedom. It is not freedom, but rather a set of fur-lined shackles.