Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed as Fiji’s
military regime continues to clamp down on independent media and free
expression, with the expulsion of a New Zealand journalist and
revelations of a government watch list this week. Barbara Dreaver, the
Pacific Affairs correspondent for Television New Zealand One, was detained at Fiji’s Nadi Airport
on December 15 and refused entry to the country. She was held overnight in a
detention centre and sent back to New Zealand yesterday morning.
Fiji’s Deputy Secretary for Information, Major Neumi Leweni,
confirmed Dreaver was on a watch list, set up by the Information Ministry in
July, and detained because "the reports she filed expressed a totally
opposite picture of what is happening" in Fiji, according to news reports.
He warned that all foreign
journalists must inform the Ministry of Information about the reasons for their
visits and the ministry would then decide whether to allow them entry.
However, Dreaver said she had
acquired a ministry pass to film during her visit.
The IFJ’s New Zealand
affiliate, the EPMU, was outraged at the treatment of Dreaver and said the interim
government’s actions were an attack on press freedom in Fiji and the wider Pacific.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, said it
was "totally unacceptable" that consular officials were not permitted
to see Dreaver while she was detained, and the matter would be taken up with
arbitrary detention and deportation of Barbara Dreaver on the basis of the
authorities’ displeasure with her reporting once again draws attention to the
alarming degree to which media freedoms in Fiji are being eroded,” IFJ General
Secretary Aidan White said.
“The ministry watch list, the
expulsion of two publishers earlier this year and the harsh penalties sought
against two newspapers charged with contempt, among other press freedom
violations, reveal a regime determined to deny ordinary people their right to
know what is happening in their country. Fiji’s military leaders must
recognise this is a no-win situation.”
Dreaver had intended to report on a
diplomatic row between Fiji
and New Zealand.
Fiji’s interim military
government, which took power in a 2006 coup, is reportedly threatening to expel
New Zealand’s acting High
Commissioner if New Zealand
does not grant an exemption to its travel ban on family members of Fiji’s military
and the interim government.
her return to New Zealand,
Dreaver said she believed the deportation was linked to her reporting in April on
the regime’s failure to assist a poverty-stricken village.
Speaking earlier from Nadi Airport,
she told TVNZ: “I came here to a job and I'm leaving having not completed that
job and that's really frustrating. My job as a journalist is to report on the
news, not be the news so I'm finding it incredibly frustrating."
The deteriorating press freedom environment in Fiji was further highlighted this week when Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, sharply
criticised interference in Fiji’s
media under the military government.
Following a meeting of Pacific
Island ministers in Suva,
Fiji’s capital, Rudd said
authorities in Fiji had
“belted around the free media” and he criticised Fiji’s failure to meet a timetable
to return to democracy, according to news reports.
The interim military government of Frank Bainimarama has
made a concerted effort to silence critical reporting throughout 2008. It
deported Fiji Sun publisher
Russell Hunter in February and Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah in May. Meanwhile, the Fiji Times and the Daily Post,
and their editors and publishers, are charged with contempt of court for
publishing a letter to the editor criticising a court ruling upholding the
legality of the 2006 military coup.
The IFJ and the EPMU called on authorities in Fiji to make public the Ministry of Information
watch list so that media personnel may know whether they are targeted, and to
desist immediately from further interference and restrictions on independent
media in Fiji.
Noting that journalists in Fiji are working under constant
pressure from the regime, both organisations urged the interim government to
uphold the rights of all journalists to go about their work free of
intimidation or impediment.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents over 600,000 journalists in
120 countries worldwide