By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre
Media organisations and newspapers worldwide are ready to mark World Media Freedom Day tomorrow - but this important day has been censored in Fiji because of the military regime’s decree banning media and political meetings.
Sources at the University of the South Pacific, where an annual free speech debate was due to be co-hosted with the Fiji Media Council, said plans had to be abandoned.
“The journalism programme was working with the Fiji Media Council to organise activities as it has done through the years, but decided against it after advice from the Information Ministry,” said one organiser.
“We had already held a meeting but could not hold a follow-up meeting to continue with preparations.
“We were told that all meetings to do with the Media Council should be deferred until after period of the 30-day emergency regulations expired.
“We were further advised to familiarise ourselves with the emergency regulations.”
The Fiji Media Council, comprising the country’s leading news media organisations, was also ordered to cancel its monthly meeting.
“Media freedom is seriously curtailed in Fiji,” said TV3 reporter Sia Aston, an AUT graduate who was recently expelled from Fiji.
“Reporters there have to carry out their jobs with members of the military and police within their offices censoring stories.
“International media are given selective access to government ministers and officials, banned from attending sensitive press conferences, monitored heavily while in Fiji and told that any reporting perceived as negative will not be tolerated.
“That is not what I would consider media freedom.”
In a statement marking Media Freedom Day, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said governments guilty of "censorship, hypocrisy, and neglect are putting press freedom to the sword world-wide”.
The president of IFJ, Jim Boumelha, said: “Governments around the world are failing to defend press freedom and the rights of journalists.
“And in the process they endanger civil liberties and democracy.”
According to the IFJ, journalists worldwide are being targeted in justification of security and counter-terrorism by authorities.
“Even democratic states are putting in place laws that constrain the exercise of journalism,” says Boumelha.
“Snooping on investigative reporters and forcing journalists to reveal sources of information is increasing. As a result, media work in an intimidating atmosphere in which censorship, direct and indirect is becoming routine.”
The Pacific regional media event, “Building courage under fire”, originally planned for Fiji has been moved to Apia, Samoa, because of martial law.
The regional event, with aim of boosting Pacific journalism’s ability to counter pressure on media freedom is being organised by the Pacific Freedom Forum, UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
The meeting starts on Wednesday and will run until May 8.
Other regional World Media Freedom Day activities include:
Malaysia: According to International Freedom of Expression (IFEX) exchange, Independent Journalism in Malaysia is organising a public forum on “media under Najib: Hope or Disappointment?” at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur on May 10.
Philippines: The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) plans a wreath-laying ceremony on May 3 in memory of journalists who have been killed.
Thailand: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and UNESCO Bangkok is organising an event to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and media independence after conflicts and crises ranging from Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime to the Philippines under Marcos.
Violet Cho is the Asian Journalism Fellow at AUT's Pacific Media Centre.
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