Alarm Sounds Again for Media Freedom in Fiji

The International

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

the regime.

 

“Fiji’s

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.

 

On

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.

 

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in

120 countries worldwide