The unprecedented clampdown on the
media in Fiji at the weekend
underscores the unwillingness of Fiji’s military leadership to uphold
long-promised democratic reform in the Pacific island nation, the International
Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said today.
“Press freedom in Fiji is in
tatters. The repressive actions taken against Fiji’s media at the weekend give
the lie to promises by the military government throughout the past year that it
would support press freedom and media professionalism as essential components
of the country’s return to democratic rule,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
“But now, the draconian and
reprehensible manner in which the military leadership is seeking to control
information about highly significant events and issues in Fiji is comparable to the actions of other
dictatorial regimes and closed societies, including Burma,
North Korea and Zimbabwe.”
Following an appeals court ruling on April 9 which declared
the 2006 coup led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama was illegal, President Ratu
Josefa Iloilo abrogated Fiji’s
1997 Constitution, sacked the nation's judges, declared himself head of state.
He reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister on April 11.
Ministry of Information officials and the police immediately
imposed sweeping censorship of the media and installed censors in newsrooms.
The media was warned not to publish or broadcast "negative" reports
about the President’s actions and the appointments of Bainimarama and the Cabinet.
Under 30-day Public Emergency Regulations, journalists are now
required to submit “sensitive” news reports to government officials for
approval. Media organisations could be shut down if official directives are
Newspapers and television outlets protested by refusing to
broadcast news bulletins and carrying blank pages and spaces in newspapers. A
blank page in the Sunday Times simply
included a line declaring, “The stories on this page could not be published due
to government restrictions.”
However, most organisations are no longer running political
reports. Local media personnel are privately reporting a “climate of silence” has
gripped some newsrooms.
Veteran Pacific affairs correspondent Sean Dorney, of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith, of New Zealand’s TV3,
were due to be deported today. Their news reports over the weekend detailed the
extent of the media clampdown.
The IFJ is extremely concerned about the impacts of denying
information to people in Fiji
and the well-being of media personnel who seek to do their jobs amid a climate
of fear and persecution.
The IFJ joins journalists and media
organisations throughout the region, including IFJ affiliates in New Zealand
and Australia – the NZ Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and
the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
– the Pacific Media Centre (PMC), Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF),the Pacific Islands News
Association (PINA) and the Fiji Media Councilin demanding that the Bainimaramaregime immediately
end all restrictions on Fiji’s news media and allow local and foreign journalists
to do their jobs in the public interest.
The crisis in Fiji follows more than a year of systematic and increasingly severe efforts by
the military leadership to silence independent reporting by local and foreign
media personnel and commentary by members of the public who dare to question
the regime’s legitimacy.
Anti-media actions have included
deportations of publishers and editors, refusal of entry to foreign media
personnel, police searches of newsrooms, contempt of court rulings, and public
comments by military officers suggesting critical media must be shut down.
Safety concerns have increased
since a firebomb attack by unknown assailants on the home of the
editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, Netani Rika, on March 23. The bomb failed to ignite.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide