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Journalist Fellows' Papers

Watching our words: Perceptions of self-censorship and media freedom in Fiji

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Ricardo Morris, a journalist and Thomson Reuters fellow from Fiji, has studied the perceptions and practice of self-censorship among journalists from his country in the years following the coup in December 2006. He focused particularly on the period after the 2014 general election that returned Fiji to democratic rule.

In his research paper, Watching our words: Perceptions of self-censorship and media freedom in Fiji, Ricardo examines how willing Fiji’s media workers are to self-censor, how self-censorship works in newsrooms, and what factors are influential on journalists’ work. Here’s how Ricardo describes his research: “The results from my survey showed a slight leaning toward self-censorship, although generally it bordered on neutrality. However, this contrasted with the responses to follow-up questions where respondents explained how self-censorship took place in various newsrooms.“

It would appear that while in practice self-censorship does occur regularly, journalists in Fiji would in theory prefer it does not happen or actually believe that it does not occur. The results could also mean that even if journalists do not self-censor, editorial processes and decision-making result in self-censorship manifesting in other ways and at other levels. “Perhaps an unavoidable outcome of Fiji's draconian media law is the normalising of self-censorship among its journalists. “When asked about their role perceptions, Fiji’s journalists without fail indicate factors such as fairness and balance, independence and fearlessness, but the perception and the practice appear to be disconnected.“

'Media capture' is well and truly embedded in many sectors of the media, and it will take time, attitudinal change and legal amendments to undo this. “Despite this, journalists still hang on to some veneer of their detached watchdog role while forging a media model that accords with the mood of the times: nation-building, ethnic harmony and development ideals.”

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.

Image: REUTERS/Lincoln Feast