Fiji Media Decree Entrenches Regime’s Control

The International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the new media decree imposed by the

military regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama in Fiji as erasing the right of journalists

to report freely and fairly.

 

The Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which the administration

announced yesterday had been gazetted on June 25, permanently installs the

sweeping censorship that has been in force in Fiji since “temporary” emergency

regulations were imposed in April 2009.

 

The decree is little changed from a

draft that met with international condemnation when it was announced in April.

 

“The Bainimarama regime claims it

has revised many elements of its draft decree after a sham public consultation.

But the decree now made law erases the rights of journalists’ and the media to

report in the public interest,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan

White said.

 

“Fiji’s power-holders need to step

back from this coercive and ultimately destructive law, and initiate moves to a

cooperative independent regulatory system that is supported by local media and

recognised by the international community.”

 

The law provides for two government-appointed

bodies. A Media Tribunal will comprise one member appointed by the President. A

Media Industry Development Authority will have six members appointed by the

Minister for Information.

 

Under the law, the regime and its

authorities will decide what is fair, balanced and quality journalism. They

will “ensure that nothing is included in the content of any media service which

is against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends

against good taste or decency and creates communal discord”.

 

The IFJ fears for journalists and

media organisations, which can be fined and jailed if the tribunal rules that news

reports breach the regime’s media codes, including its Media Code of Ethics and

Practice.

 

Media organisations face fines of

$100,000 Fiji

dollars (about USD 50,600), publishers or editors

$25,000 (about USD 12,600) and journalists or other employees of media

organisations $1000 (about USD 500).

 

The tribunal may also order

compensation of up to $100,000 Fiji

dollars (about USD 50,600) be paid by media organisations to “any person

aggrieved or adversely affected” by media reports.

 

The tribunal can order media

organisations and their employees to disclose sources. If they do not, they can

be fined $10,000 (about USD 5060) or jailed for up to two years, or both.

 

The law retrospectively requires

that all media organisations be registered with the authority and 90 per cent

owned by citizens of Fiji.

 

This action clearly targets the Fiji Times, which is owned by News Ltd.The

paper, which has a staff of about 200, is the only local media outlet to try to

maintain critical independence despite attacks, threats, intimidation and more

than a year of strict censorship.

 

The right of appeal against tribunal

decisions is only available where a penalty or compensation payment of $50,000 Fiji dollars (about

USD 25,300) has been ordered.

 

“Journalists and other media workers

could lose their jobs as a result, but it is the people of Fiji who will suffer the most from

the blackout on independent critical voices,” White said.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries