Thursday, April 16, 2009

IPI deplores Fiji crackdown on media

Pacific Media Centre

Authorities in Fiji are removing articles from news websites under emergency rules imposed after a court declared the military-backed government illegal. These actions, combined with censorship of other news reports, represent a concerted effort by the government to block access to information in a time of political crisis, the International Press Institute said today.

The censorship and interference with media in Fiji follow an emergency decree imposed on April 10, a day after an appellate court declared the provisional government led by the army commander, Voreqe Bainimarama, to be illegal. In response to the ruling, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, a Bainimarama ally, suspended the constitution and abolished the judiciary.

Journalists in Fiji told IPI that government censors have “cleaned up” newspaper websites to remove current as well as archived stories. IPI’s sources also said authorities from the Ministry of Information, backed by police officers, have gone into newsrooms and censored articles due to be published in newspapers.

Bainimarama, who took power in 2006 in a military-backed coup, told Radio New Zealand that the media are to blame for the current political turmoil. But IPI director David Dadge called the accusation a “deplorable attempt to hide the truth at a time of political uncertainty”, and called for an end to censorship and the intimidation of journalists. Dadge said:

The military regime is looking for a convenient excuse to mask its failure to restore order, stabilise the economy and allow Fijians to choose their leaders through the ballot box. Contrary to what the regime says, the media can contribute to better understanding and can ease tension in divided societies, and I fear Mr. Bainimarama’s desire for control will only exacerbate the problems in Fiji .

The Public Emergency Regulations imposed on April 10, along with other directives that impose severe restrictions on the news media, forbid journalists to report critically on politics or the government, or to publish stories perceived as inciting violence. Journalists said even stories about recent civil unrest in Thailand were pulled from newspapers for fear they may incite the local population.

Some newspapers in Fiji have run blank pages as an act of defiance after the authorities banned publication of certain articles. Several foreign journalists have been expelled or barred from entering the country.

Three foreign journalists -- Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith from New Zealand’s TV3, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Sean Dorney -- were expelled from Fiji on April 13. The government also ordered ABC to disconnect its FM transmitters in the capital Suva and in the tourist town of Nadi. This move also affects Radio New Zealand International, which rebroadcasts programmes via the ABC transmitters.

Fijian journalists have been warned not to speak to foreign media about the situation, and some have been taken into custody for questioning.

Graphic: A Malcolm Evans cartoon for PMC's Pacific Journalism Review adapted by Josephine Latu.

IPI statement
Other media reaction
PMC on Media7 [video]

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