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 ignored.
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 A blank page in the Sunday Times simply included a line declaring, “The stories on this page could not be published due to government restrictions.”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 Council in demanding that the Bainimarama regime 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.