According to reports, Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and freelance cameraman Hayden Aull were arrested and detained over night at Suva central police station. They were arrested after they tried to interview a Chinese resort developer accused of environmental desecration of an island in the Mamanucas. The developer, Freesoul Real Estate accused them of criminal trespass and held overnight.
Early on April 4, Fiji’s Prime Minister Bainimarama ordered the immediate release of the trio. He then met with the journalists following their release and made a formal apology to them.
Prime minister Baininarama said: “I wanted to speak to you personally to thank you for being very understanding about what transpired last night, but also to apologise on behalf of the government and the people of Fiji. The press in this instant has been an ally of ours…”
E tū’s senior national industrial officer Paul Tolich said: “The union welcomes the release of the journalists but says they should never have been arrested in the first place. The journalists were simply engaged in journalistic inquiries about the impact of development on Malolo Island and the actions of the police are another example of Fiji’s intolerance towards a free and independent press. Despite the apology from Fiji’s Prime Minister, this will have a chilling effect on journalism in the Pacific. Journalists need to be able to challenge the powerful and hold them to account. This is the hallmark of a free and democratic society.”
The IFJ said: “We reiterate the statements made by E tū, while we welcome the swift action to release the three journalists and the apology from the Prime Minister; the actions of the police raise serious questions about press freedom in Fiji. The freedom of the press in Fiji has come under attack in recent years and this is the latest example of the challenging environment that the media operate within.”