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FIJI: Advocacy group fears more media self-censorship after clampdown


Image: David Robie/PMC

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Item: 8208

SUVA (Radio NZ International / Pacific Media Watch): A Pacific media advocacy group,  the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)  says Fiji’s news organisations have suffered a "double whammy" this week while the main regional body Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) says it is "normal" for a country to put in place laws preparing for an election.

Titi Gabi, co-chair of PFF, says the tightening of a decree threatening up to five years jail time for mentioning defunct political parties and a hefty High Court sentence imposed on the Fiji Times newspaper, has sent a worrying message to journalists.

She says everyone is interested in the 2014 election with people both inside and outside of Fiji wanting reliable information and covering political stories is part of the job.

Gabi also says she would encourage the Fiji’s interim government to use the Fiji Times’ established complaints procedure if there are stories published they don’t like.

Titi Gabi says the combination of the two actions is likely to frighten journalists into self-censorship.

“What we fear is that the reporters and media organisations in Fiji will now just go back to censoring themselves heavily. And it starts with reporters, they go out and do jobs and they say to themselves ’No, I can’t touch this, I might end up like that’, and that’s what we’re fearing. Heading towards elections, you want to really promote a free a fair election, and that’s going to happen only through the media. And if this is how it’s starting, that is a worry.”

- The co-chair of the Pacific Freedom Forum, Titi Gabi.

However,  the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) says it is normal that the Fiji regime puts in place laws in preparation of what it calls the country’s first democratic election.

The administration in Suva has tightened a decree, which now threatens jail terms of up to five years for media referring to defunct political parties.

The PINA president, Moses Stevens, says the Fiji media and the regime need to have an understanding of how to get people ready for the elections.

“PINA cannot change governments, PINA cannot be involved in national issues. PINA will be there just to ensure whatever is going on it must be in an open-minded position. With whatever happens, if there is a will there is a way. And we believe that Fiji will pull through the current situation. 2014 is just around the corner.”

- The PINA president, Moses Stevens.

The editor of the Fiji Times says it is business as usual after it was fined F$300,000 (US$170,000) for contempt of court.

The newspaper was fined for reprinting an article by New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times, which quoted Tai Nicholas of the Oceania Football Confederation questioning the Fiji judiciary.

The editor, Fred Wesley, says the fine is hefty but no meetings have been planned to consider whether it will appeal the court’s decision.

“We haven’t deliberated over this. We haven’t discussed this yet. For now it’s about attending to other issues and that’s where we’ll leave it. It will come in its own due time.”

Fred Wesley says staff have always strived to protect the integrity and credibility of the paper and says they will continue to make this a priority.

David Robie's Café Pacific commentary and links
 

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Pacific Media Watch

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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