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Fiji: ‘The Media has been Muzzled’

“The stories on this page could not be published because of Government restrictions,” read page two of the Fiji Times Sunday, April 12.

The Fiji Sun reports it will not “publish political reports- either from the interim Government or their critics – until it can do so with accuracy, balance and fairness.”

Fiji Television viewers turning into the Sunday, April 12 received this notice over a black screen: “Viewers Please Be Advised There Will Be No 6PM News Bulletin Tonight.”

This reporting by omission is in response to new government “public emergency regulations,” (opens .doc file) which will be in place for 30 days, prohibiting the broadcast or publishing or any material that “may give rise to disorder” or could create “a breach of the peace, or promote disaffection or public alarm, or undermine the Government and the State of Fiji.”

Since April 8, Fiji has been ruled by three different governments. Thursday, April 9 a court of appeals declared that military ruler Commodore Voreqe Frank Bainimarama came to power illegally in December 2006 when he dissolved Parliament and deposed the government of Laisenia Qarase. As directed, Bainimarama stepped down, and the court instructed the country’s President to appoint a caretaker government to lead the country to elections. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo said he had no constitutional authority to install a new leader, so he nullified the country’s constitution, fired the judiciary and appointed himself head of state and the military. The following day he re-appointed Bainimarama and gave him a five-year mandate to complete carrying out his stated reforms of ending corruption and communal, provincial and religious politics.

The new government will rule by decree. Under the “public emergency regulations” it has the power to curtail assembly, expanded search and seizure powers and gives police and military the power to detain “suspected persons” for up to seven days without charges.

In relation to the press, Bainimarama's government installed “information officers” at newspapers, television and radio stations to enforce the regulations against publishing any story “negative in nature” regarding the extraordinary recent constitutional events. In a letter to media organizations, the government pointed out they should broadcast “news that is pro-Fij.”

Thus, the newspapers and television programs have decided to ignore all political events.

In other news,

The government has asked one Australian and one New Zealand journalist to leave the country because of their negative reporting;

One local internet forum has closed until further notice;

The Fiji Times editor, Netani Rika, was arrested Sunday after the government asked him to refrain from publishing blank pages blaming government restrictions.

Writing about Fiji TV's canceled news bulletin, the pro-government blog IG-Fiji explains the new media regulations.

The govt. will not tolerate any forms of sedition, treason or civil disobedience from any quarter. We have stated that all media outlets need to exercise a high degree of caution before publishing any article which may cause riots or civil unrest of any sort.

For the government, this means, publishing stories “by contacting parties such as [opposition political parties] NFP, SDL and other NGO’s who all chose to use the limelight as an opportunity to voice their personal opinions and attempt to cause an uprising against the govt. of the day.”

Back to IG-Fiji:

If the Fiji TV management team chooses not to run their news bulletin as normal, but under the Emergency Decree, then the govt. will not interfere with the decision taken by the management. This also applies to the Fiji Times who were cordial enough to agree that specific news articles would not be run but the requirement was that the company be allowed to publish a censorship message in its stead. This was readily agreed to and it was further agreed that no news that had been censored would be published on any of the media outlets websites. We are of the belief that the media council will be working closely with us in a professional manner in order to ensure the 30 day transition passes smoothly. The Emergency Regulations will be reviewed after this period and renewed IF necessary.

We ask that all the people of this country come together in a patriotic harmony and work with the govt. to help build a better Fiji which is free of corruption and racial politics.

The journalists and media watchdogs at Café Pacific explain how Fiji’s media has its work cut out for them.

[E]ditors, journalism and the news media have an unenviable job ahead of them – trying to pick their way through the Fiji minefield and maintain some level of media freedom and independence in the current climate of censorship and self-censorship. Expulsion of expatriate Australian publishers under the glare of immediate glare of international media publicity over the past year was one thing, the day-to-day unsung hard graft and risks now facing courageous local journos is quite another. Café Pacific believes Fiji is now entering a sinister era where journalists are stepping out of the regional rhetoric of media freedom and may face real dangers as suffered in many other developing nations.

From Intelligentsiya.

It is appropriate therefore that we try to assess why there are such intense attempts to censor the media.

To do that we begin by going back to the Rabuka Chronicles or his “No Other Way” steps to dealing with the media.

Our view is that this time around Bainimarama is aware that the mood of the people in this country will not be as acquiescent in comparison to 6/12. So in their true hearts and minds fashion, they will label every piece of news that does not support them as inciteful (big word there Leweni, sure you know what it means?).

But the real intent is to clamp down and ensure that small pockets of opposition do not become public information in case other people in the country decide to support it and hey presto we have a big protest against being robbed of the right to live in a free and democratic society en masse.

Unfortunately by picking up Rabuka’s tips from ’87 and trying to control the media, the media houses defiance today will instead inspire many others to also stand up and oppose the military junta.

Yes they’re still amateurs. That is why they will continue to be out-done, out-gunned, out-flanked, out-maneuvered and out-numbered.

Note: Sitiveni Rabuka, a once low-ranking officer in Fiji’s military, carried out the country’s first two coups, both in 1987, that overthrow a government headed by an Indo-Fijian political party.

According to most counts, Fiji has endured four military coups since 1987. A new blog calculates the weekend’s actions amounted to half-a-coup. With that in mind, coup four and a half has been covering the media. The blogsters at Coup Four and A Half ran this report.

Sources say Fiji TV reporter, Edwind Nand, was questioned this afternoon because of his interview with ABC journalist, Sean Dorney.

Nand is understood to be still at the Central Police Station in Suva.

Fiji TV have been told it's not allowed to air the Dorney interview.

The internal censorship has given rise to the importance of the foreign press and blogs who are taking comments.

The media has been muzzled, says Soli Vakasama.

REMEMBER, PEACEFUL RESISTANCE IS THE WAY AS THERE IS NO LAW IN FIJI TODAY.

It’s hard to do but try to carry on as normally as you can. There are many supporters who have to work in areas that the ig contro,l to keep the wheels turning, we need to stop vilifying them otherwise we’d all be in the shitpit.
Do not vent in public, come in here and vent your frustrations. We all feel your pain.

Use other sites like You Tube, Twitter and Anti Fiji Coup sites to add your resistance to the illegal stance in Fiji.

From Talking Fiji a few days back:

Other media outlets are exercising caution less they too be censored by the militarised Police.

The only source of uncensored news and commentary in Fiji now come from blogs.

It is an undeniable truth that media censorship is the first step towards creating a police state…

In times of darkness and despair, a free and balanced media is a beacon of hope for a people supressed.

If you take away that hope, then all that is left is misery.

And misery, if left to fester, can turn into resentment and then to anger.

Put another way, State censorship of the media is the first slippery step toward anarchy because the people of Fiji will not remain supressed for very much longer.

Not everyone in Fiji is critical of the recent government moves. A commenter at Fiji Live, Kumar, argues:

Media should work with the government of the day. They have responsibility to use their freedom for the benefit of the country. The media in Fiji is known to incite racial tension and portray one sided information. It has been constantly trying to portray a negative image of the current government which is trying hard to build a better Fiji. Let Fiji move forward … don't kill her!

International citizen journalists have also chimed in. From Kiwi Blog, David Farrar reports:

In the NZ blogosphere there has been a diversity of opinion on Fiji. Most have been highly critical of Bainimarama, but several (mainly on the right) have supported him, as they admired him standing up for the minority Indians and wanting to abolish the race based constitution.

To be honest over the last year I had been creeping more towards the camp that if he does get rid of the race based constitution, and hands over power to a truly democratic Government, then he may be seen one day on the side of the good guys.

But no-one should be defending his regime’s attack on media freedom. Supressing criticism at he point of a gun is what the Stalinist bloc used to do, and what Castro and Kim do.

Australian blogger Andrew Bartlett writing in Crikey Blogs.

Kevin Rudd has said that Fiji is now “virtually a military dictatorship”. I’m not sure what else needs to happen before the word “virtually” gets dropped, but whatever term you want to use, it sure isn’t democracy – especially with the latest censorship crackdown. The dictatorship’s Secretary for Information, Major Neumi Leweni, is kindly providing ‘information officers’ and police to assist every media newsroom in Fiji with deciding what is and isn’t newsworthy. Some more details are on the Talking Fiji blog.

The renewed censorship will mean blogs and other sources of online information will probably become the main way to access uncensored information out of Fiji.

Not long after this current coup first occurred, the military attempted to shut down access to anti-government blogs. No doubt similar efforts will be made now, but at present there is a wide range of blogs providing some information and some vibrant rallying calls.

On Bartlett’s personal site, a commenter, TRS, argues you have to take what you read online with a grain of salt.

The blogs have never really had to try to counter censorship as it’s very nature has allowed bloggers to post without any degree of external influence. Most blog sites contain posts written by anonymouse bloggers.

What is important to note are the truth claims of many bloggers. Whilst the blog posts at the moment seem to carry a lot more information then what is available from traditional media outlets, we have to very careful in absorbing what it’s contents are.

Unlike tradtional media, the stories contained in the blog posts have not been subjected to normal journalistic standards nor have they been vetted properly.

In any case, the only option for any coup related news for many Fijians right now are the blogs sites. Some news is better then nothing.

  • Aussie & Kiwi Interference unwelcome

    Comments on Fiji from anyone living in Australia or New Zealand can hardly be deemed credible. It’s more apt to be true if you are tied to an Australian or NZ university, think-tank, or similiar apparatus.

    It is in your best interest to portray Fiji as crisis-ridden and a failed state.

    Really, what you should be discussing is Australia and New Zealand fearful of losing a loyal satellite, who now threatens to spin into the orbit of larger Asian nations.

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