BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The Media Watch Group a.k.a Fiji Media Watch (FMW) was formed in 1994. It was founded in response to the growing concern of members on the negative impact of the mass media on children and families, and the need to ensure that it is enriching of people’s lives. It was originally set up as a volunteer organisation but has evolved in recent years to include paid staff. This is indicative of the growth of the mass media in Fiji. Its level of sophistication, therefore, requires full time personnel with the relevant skills and experience to monitor developments in communication and the mass media, and their impacts on local communities. Further understanding of FMW’s background and history would require a history walk on the development of media in Fiji’s economy.
The publication of The Fiji Times in 1869 saw the first step of what was to become the mass media in Fiji. Today it is one of three daily newspapers with a vernacular weekly news publication. Two of the three dailies are for the most part owned by trans-national corporations.
While radio broadcasting existed from the 1920s, it was only in 1954 that the Fiji Broadcasting Commission (popularly known as Radio Fiji) began radio transmissions. Its three stations (English, Fijian and Hindustani) used matching formats: news, informational and educational programmes with music and light entertainment to fill in between. Today there are 13 local radio broadcast stations. However, the 1980s saw a sudden expansion in the world of media, both in the variety of means of communication and programmes formats. This resulted mainly from the growth in information and communication technologies (ICT), which was also fuelled by the commercialisation of the media industry. First it was video, followed by television (1991), then the Internet and now the cell phone.
Fiji Television Limited is Fiji’s main television network. It operates one free to air channel (FIJI ONE) and three pay channels as well as a regional satellite based pay television service with up to 15 channels of movies, music, sports, entertainment, discovery, travel and other programmes. Television has grown to be the dominant medium in the country, surpassing even radio which has ease of accessibility and until now greater range. The Internet connected Fiji to the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s. Originally used for communication, the internet has become a source of information, entertainment and advertising. A serious issue with the internet is the unfettered access to users to all sorts of material, especially children’s accessibility to adult rated sites.
The original aim of the Mass Media was to inform, educate and entertain the public. The advent of globalisation and the commercialisation of the media in recent decades have reversed these priorities. The order now is advertisement followed by entertainment, with information making up a poor third. News is often sensationalised to generate greater readership, a trend common in radio and television, as well as an attempt to gain as large an audience as possible. The result of this trend is a serious reduction of the public service ethos and the eroding of cultural and civic sensitivities. What began as a response to a perceived human need is in danger now of dehumanising society through the commoditisation of the human person, valued more and more for his or her acquisitive abilities and consumer capacities.
The responsibility, therefore, to see that the media is used in a way that will enrich – not impoverish – people’s lives lies equally on the users and owners as inter-dependent partners in a common venture. Greater awareness is needed to help people understand the role of the Mass Media in Fiji: how it operates, the way it influences people’s lives, and how, through selective use, it can enhance people’s quality of living. Similarly, the leaders of the media industry need to convince producers to safeguard the four pillars of the human community: to advance the common good, uphold the truth, protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family.