The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned about the press freedom situation in Fiji as two newspapers, their editors and publishers face jail terms and hefty fines for contempt of court charges.
The charges, which are being pursued by the Attorney-General’s office, refer to publication by the Fiji Times and the Fiji Daily Post in October of a letter to the editor which criticised a High Court ruling upholding the legality of Fiji’s 2006 military coup.
The charges cite Fiji Times editor Netani Rika and publisher Rex Gardner, as well as Post editor Robert Wolfgramm and Australian-based publisher Allan Hickling.
Both newspapers have been ordered to disclose details of the letter’s author, who is believed to live in Australia.
The Post is expected to make its first appearance in court today, while the Fiji Times case is scheduled for a continued hearing on December 4, according to media reports.
Action is continuing against the Fiji Times despite the newspaper the printing a front-page article in early November which accepted that the paper was in contempt when it published the letter. The paper also offered to pay costs.
The IFJ is concerned that Fiji’s military government is systematically seeking to silence independent media reporting. Earlier in 2008, it deported Fiji Sun publisher and managing director Russell Hunter and Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah.
“Efforts by Fiji’s military government to coerce media and journalists to toe the line are a direct attack on press freedom, journalists and the rights of members of the public to know what is happening in their country,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.
“The interim Attorney-General’s pursuit of jail terms and large fines against newspapers that published a critical opinion underscores the lengths to which Fiji’s authorities are prepared to go to censor information and promote a climate of fear among the media and the wider public.”
The IFJ is also concerned that while the Attorney-General’s Office is seeking to silence critical commentary, it is also drafting a new media law without sufficient consultation with Fiji’s media community. The law is expected to be made public in December.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide