Harsh Penalties Sought for Newspapers in Fiji

 

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