Media Freedom in Fiji Worsens as Another Newsman Deported

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is increasingly alarmed at the deteriorating

press freedom environment in Fiji

as authorities deported the publisher of The

Fiji Times today. It is the third deportation of a senior newsman in less

than a year.

 

Rex Gardner, the publisher and

acting CEO of The Fiji Times, was

deported to Sydney, Australia, after being declared a

prohibited immigrant. Gardner

is an Australian citizen.

 

Gardner’s expulsion

follows on the heels of a court ruling on January 22 in which he and The Fiji Times were convicted for

contempt of court for publishing a letter to the editor which criticised a High

Court ruling upholding the legality of Fiji’s 2006 military coup.

 

Gardner was discharged on a good

behaviour bond while The Fiji Times was given 27 days to pay a fine of FJ$100,000 (about US$54,000).

"No

reason was given for my deportation and I probably won't get one either -

because that's the way they operate, the dark of night and this sort of

thing," Gardner

said, according to news reports.

“The actions of Fiji’s military government are pushing the

already-starved information consumers of Fiji further into the dark about

issues surrounding the workings of the interim government and deny the public a

fully independent and critical media. Fiji’s

military government appears to be trying to turn Fiji into a closed society,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said

 

Gardner’s

deportation order cites section 13(2)(g) of Fiji’s Immigration Act, which

refers to the removal of people deemed to pose a potential threat to the

Government.

 

Fiji’s authorities used the

same tactic to clamp down on critical and independent media throughout 2008.

 

In May, Gardner’s predecessor at The Fiji Times, Evan Hannah, was deported under the same section of

the Immigration Act.

 

In February, Russell Hunter, also an

Australian citizen and publisher

and managing director of The Fiji Sun,

was deported as a “prohibited immigrant”. He was accused of being

a threat to national security.

 

In December, Barbara Dreaver, the

Pacific Affairs correspondent for Television New Zealand One, was detained at Fiji’s Nadi Airport

and refused entry into the country.

 

“The deportation of Rex Gardner

further underscores the lengths to which Fiji’s authorities are prepared to

go to punish media that does not toe the government line,” Park said.

 

Gardner’s

deportation came as a meeting of the Pacific Forum was to

be held in Papua New Guinea today

to discuss the failure of Fiji’s

interim military government to restore democracy. Frank Bainimarama, who led

the 2006 coup and heads Fiji’s

military government, declined to attend the PNG meeting.

 

Bainimarama has said in the past

that the interim government is committed to media freedom but that there are

limitations to constitutional guarantees on freedom of the press.

 

The IFJ calls on Fiji’s authorities to make transparent the real

reasons for deporting Gardner, and to desist

from their efforts to silence independent media in Fiji.

 

The IFJ also appeals to all

leaders of Pacific island countries to work together to protect the right of

all people in Fiji to enjoy a free media and freedom of expression.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide