Monday, July 19, 2010

Fiji turns the screws on the media

Opponents of Fiji’s media censorship want to set up a pirate radio station in international waters to broadcast news and music currently banned by the Frank Bainimarama dictatorship. Usaia Waqatairewa, the Sydney-based president of the Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement, told the ABC today they wanted to put an antenna on an American or Australian registered ship located outside Fiji's legal jurisdiction. Waqatairewa says Internet access was rare in Fiji and people needed another means of getting news the Bainimarama government isn't letting them hear. “What we're planning to do is to if we could in some way set up a freedom radio that does not have the control of the regime in Fiji and be able to broadcast out the real news, instead of their propaganda and what they have censored themselves,” he said. (photo by Jachin Sheehy)

The announcement comes just days after the Fijian dictator, who has ruled since 2006, claimed the country would probably not be “ready” for elections in 2014. It also comes less than a month after strict new laws further inhibited Fiji’s media from honestly reporting on what is happening there. On 29 June the military backed regime introduced its new "Media Industry Development Decree 2010" which brought in a new set of strict rules governing Fiji’s media. The laws strengthen already tough laws governing the media, military intimidation of reporters, censors in newsrooms and the deportation of foreign-born newspaper executives.

One of those executives was Russell Hunter who was the former managing-director of the Fiji Sun before he was deported in 2007. Hunter called the laws draconian and an erosion of freedom and basic human rights. The laws give the media authority the right to demand the name of confidential sources if the story relates to government corruption. Journalists could be fined $50,000 and jailed for two years for work deemed against the “public interest or order”. The most well-known provision is the 10 percent limit on foreign ownership as it directly affects the News Ltd owned Fiji Times, which is the country’s oldest and largest newspaper.

The Fijian Government has now given News Ltd three months to sell the paper or be forcibly shut down. It also casts huge doubts over the viability of foreign investment in the country at the very time it is most needed. News Limited boss John Hartigan said the laws eroded the "basic tenets of democracy" in Fiji. "This illegal government has retrospectively withdrawn permission for foreign media investment in Fiji, which is not only grossly unfair but will inevitably be enormously damaging to Fiji's reputation as an attractive investment opportunity," he said.

In response, the Fijian media regulator said the country’s media needs to be a part of the regime not an opponent. Former Canberra-based academic Satendra Nandan, chair of the Media Industry Development Authority, said action needed to be taken against newspapers such as The Fiji Times, which had acted against the Bainimarama government. Nandan told The Australian the Times’ coverage of the scrapping of the judiciary and constitution last year was “abusive and scurrilous”. "The Fiji Times took a strong stand against the current government and the abrogation of the constitution and they didn't consider the national interest,” Nandan said.

The New Zealand Herald says the media laws are part of an ongoing removal of Fijians' rights including quashing the constitution, removing dissent and empty promises on a new election. With 60 percent of Fiji’s tourist income coming from New Zealand and Australia, the Herald rightly suggest the time is now right to reconsider holiday plans in Fiji. “Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime,” the paper said. “But they are undermining their own country's diplomatic efforts."


Sam Clifford said...

Good on the media for sticking it to the government.

Anonymous said...

Unlike some of the commentators living in Australia and NZ, I live in Fiji, and you know what? Press freedom comes with responsibility. The responsibility not to publish opinions and call them facts. And if one-sided reporting is an example of misrepresentation by the press why is it that opinions supporting Bainimarama from people in Fiji don't get heard in the Australian media? I know many people who have emailed ABC News, for example, but the comments which are reported are those supporting the Australian point of view. If the Australian media provides unbiased reporting why aren't these voices heard? It's OK for Australian papers to adopt the government line, but not for those in Fiji? Talk about double standards. Very frustrating! Right now there are growing numbers of people in this country who are finally beginning to feel optimistic about our future - more so than under any of the previous governments. That's a FACT. Oh and by the way, I'm 'anonymous' because I don't want repercussions from the Australians gov't! They ban people who don't agree with them!