July 01, 2010

The PINA Row Erupts Again

Mr John Woods. Take a bow. You are The Man.

Freedom loving journalists this is a test of your integrity and your respect for your role as the 4th Estate in a democratic society, so please strongly consider joining the new body that is being set up. 

This new media entity can only be as good as the upstanding professionals in this industry that it attracts.

VP of peak Pacific media body PINA resigns in disgust
Updated July 1, 2010 07:29:41

The vice president of the Pacific Islands News Association, PINA, has tendered his resignation saying the board's inaction in "leading the rage" against Fiji's new media laws makes him ashamed to be a member.

Monday's gazetting of Fiji's Media Industry Development Decree 2010 will see stiff penalties handed out to journalists and media owners for unfavourable reporting as judged by the military-backed regime. And foreign ownership regulations will be tightened, which will squeeze The Fiji Times' owner News Limited out of the country.

PINA is based in Fiji.

Geraldine Coutts asked Vice President John Woods - who is also the managing editor of the Cook Islands News - for the reasons he decided to resign.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: John Woods, former vice president of Pacific Islands News Association, PINA
Listen here.

WOODS: Basically the implementation of the decree is the last straw, and I'd say the last straw in that for over a year now PINA has been challenged to standup, speak against and resist the impositions of the military regime as far as they affect censorship and freedom of speech. And PINA has kowtowed to the regime through its administration, which is Fiji based, and the administration has dodged and ducked whenever politically a board member like myself has asked for some action, for a response. Disillusionment has grown and spread throughout the region amongst journalists and amongst media operators because of the inaction of PINA to the point of frustration and the suppressed outrage has now kind of manifest itself with a silent transfer of support and allegiance away from PINA to a new entity, which has the working title of Pacific Media Association.

COUTTS: So you're saying that you're going to setup an opposition group now to PINA?

WOODS: A group of independent media operators in the region is going to do that, I'm merely one of the group.

COUTTS: Who will be the group, who will be the members of the group?

WOODS: Well at the moment we have publishers and broadcasters from Vanuatu, from Samoa, from Tonga, from the Cook Islands, who have met and we have forged the concept of a framework for a new body which will be totally independent, will be all inclusive in terms of we won't have too many restrictions on who's allowed to speak, who's allowed to attend our meetings. And we won't play political games like PINA plays every year or two over who's paid and who hasn't their membership fees. We will be looking from as far afield as Wallis and Fortuna, right across to French Polynesia, we're looking at New Caledonia. These are countries that are not represented in PINA. The members have pulled out and failed to renew because of concerns over the duplicity and double standards of PINA.

See PINA's basic constitution is to uphold and defend free speech and a free press. If PINA cannot even answer or comment on the problems and challenges of censorship and restrictions in one country, then it's lost its credibility.

COUTTS: Mr Woods have you got the backing of the Forum and will their subscribers, such as Australia and New Zealand support this new body?

WOODS: I don't know you'll have to ask them.

COUTTS: Well I'm just wondering if you're setting it up have you been in touch to find out how viable this new organisation can be?

WOODS: We know it's viable because we're the independent media operators and we're forming an association for ourselves. We're not bludgers, we're not dependent on aid, like PINA, and we're not going to basically beg, go cap in hand to funding organisations. We will survive on our merits and on our own strengths and on our own undertaking.

COUTTS: Well you've written your letter of resignation to Moses Stevens, the President of the PINA board. Have you had a response from him?

WOODS: No and I'm not surprised.

COUTTS: Why not?

WOODS: Because anything thorny and anything difficult gets duck-shoved and ignored by the PINA administration.

COUTTS: So you obviously won't be based in Fiji as the PINA board is. Where will this new organisation be headquartered?

WOODS: You're asking me for definitive answers to something which is really it's still in its conceptual stages. So everything's provisional and everything's new. I can't speak for the organisation because the organisation's not even properly constituted. We are merely a gathering of independent media operators who want to form a new organisation. We met in Samoa a couple of weeks ago, we are thinking that Samoa would be an ideal location because politically the prime minister is a champion of free speech, because it has good air links throughout our region to Polynesia, Melanesia and New Zealand. And that's the preferred choice at this stage.

COUTTS: I know you're only just getting going and you're not quite sure, but the base of it is that you're protesting against the Fiji media decree. Can I just ask you what in particular you are most upset about that this decree introduces?

WOODS: Well the obvious strictures of insisting that foreign investment be reduced to a tiny percentage, that journalists are subject to imprisonment and horrendous fines if they contravene the decree's restrictions. These things are oppressive, barbaric, and in themselves are enough reason to I think pull PINA out of Fiji, which should have been done long ago, and for at least the organisation to speak up and challenge the military puppets that have invented this ridiculous, barbaric 19th century set of rules.

COUTTS: Well PINA has resisted the request, the often put request to move itself out of Fiji. Why do you think it continues to do that?

WOODS: Because it is dominated and driven systemically by Fijian interests because the operators are protective of their jobs, and because the democratic operations of the board that drives the association are controlled, contrived and manipulated by a few people.

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