Rethink about Meeting in Fiji : IFJ to Australian Travel Writers

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has urged the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW) not to accept a bid for its annual general meeting to be hosted in Fiji next year, in view of the Fiji military regime’s strict censorship and hardline in controlling news reporting.

The IFJ wrote to the ASTW on September 23 calling for it to reconsider any meeting in Fiji while restrictions continue against local media.

The IFJ said that ASTW members would be compromising their integrity to accept the hospitality of the regime in the current circumstances.

The letter from IFJ Asia-Pacific Steering Committee member Christopher Warren, who is also Federal Secretary of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, noted that while ASTW “members may be encouraged by Fiji’s regime to visit and report favourably on Fiji, other foreign journalists risk being banned from entry while local journalists must daily bow to the demands of the newsroom censors”.

The ASTW was reminded of its code of ethics, which states that members will “encourage responsible professional standards of reporting” and “safeguard the professional independence of travel writers”. The society’s stated mandate is to promote “unbiased reporting of information on travel topics”.

“The IFJ believes that the staging of the AGM in Fiji would risk compromising the ASTW,” Warren said in the letter.

“While ASTW members may seek to present a realistic picture of Fiji’s current circumstances in their professional work as travel writers, they would be denied this right within Fiji, and any critical commentary in their journalistic or other work would be blocked from circulation within Fiji.

“Fiji is therefore not a suitable venue in which the ASTW can reasonably promote professional travel writing in keeping with the ASTW’s code of ethics and international journalistic standards that support freedom of the media, expression and association.”

The ASTW has told the IFJ it will circulate the letter to its members, some of whom are also members of the Alliance, an IFJ affiliate, after the completion of an online survey of members about whether to accept a bid to hold the AGM in Fiji.

The IFJ’s concerns follow a considerable worsening of the media situation in Fiji over the past 18 months, with police raids on media offices, deportations of publishers and editors, calls by military officers for media houses to be shut down, a “watch list” and bans on foreign journalists, and contempt of court rulings carrying hefty punishments. In April 2009, the regime imposed emergency regulations with orders that journalists and media outlets submit “sensitive” news reports to officials. Full-time censors have been placed in newsrooms.

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