Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) in voicing concerns
for the future of a critical and independent media in Fiji following
this week’s sudden resignation of Netani Rika as editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times.
The departure of Rika from the helm
of the paper was greeted warmly by the spokeswoman for Fiji’s military
regime led by Frank Bainimarama, which has imposed increasingly draconian
controls on independent media and freedom of expression over the past two
Permanent Secretary for Information
Sharon Smith-Johns welcomed Rika’s departure, noting he had refused to
acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime installed in a military coup in 2006.
“The regime-imposed pressures on the
Fiji Times risk silencing anyone who
dares to stand up to defend independent media for the people of Fiji,” IFJ
General Secretary Aidan White said.
Rika, who is widely known for his courageous
defence of a free and critical media in Fiji and has suffered threats and
attacks in the past, was reported by the Fiji
Times to have stepped down for “the good of the company”.
In September, News Ltd sold the
paper to Fiji company Motibhai Group under the compulsion of the draconian Media
Industry Development Decree 2010, which was made law in June and demands
all local media must be 90 per cent Fiji-owned.
The law, which was condemned
internationally, clearly targeted the Fiji
Times as the only local remaining media outlet in Fiji that
sought to maintain critical independence despite the sweeping censorship
imposed under “temporary” emergency regulations in April 2009.
Fiji Times publisher Dallas
Swinstead said on October 5 that Rika had quit because of perceptions he was
anti-government. Rika was replaced by Fred Wesley the previous day.
Adding to the concerns about the pressures
on the Fiji Times and its direction,
deputy editor Sophie Foster was also absent from the newsroom this week. Like
Rika, Foster has shown courage in seeking to defend editorial independence in a
climate of repression.
PFF noted in a statement that
the unexplained “absence” of Foster would add to pressure on the paper’s
editorial team in walking the balance between Fiji’s politics and editorial
“There is little doubt that Rika and
the Fiji Times news team
have worked in difficult times to be nothing less than the best
journalists possible for their Fiji audiences - reporting without fear or
favour and under the cloud of repressive military tactics clearly aimed at
shutting them down,” PFF chair Susuve Laumaea said in a statement.
The turmoil at the Fiji Times comes amid broader efforts to
restrict free speech and free association, with former prime minister and
General Secretary of the National Farmers’ Union Mahendra Chaudhry charged with
unlawful assembly on October 1.
Chaudhry was arrested with five
others under the 2009 Public Emergency Regulations while meeting farmers. He
has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
PFF co-chair Monica Miller noted,
“The connection between the media controls and regime attempts to curb free
speech are already well established, with Fiji’s regime leader on the record
justifying his silencing of the churches and chiefs in Fiji as part of
his leadership strategy.
“Silencing voices by restricting
freedom of assembly is just taking control over free thinking and debate to the
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