Editor’s Departure Highlights Concerns At Silencing Of Critics In Fiji

The International

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

next level.”


For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919



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