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Fiji: Bloggers debate media censorship

As reported here last week, Fiji’s government extended for another 30 days its “emergency regulations” that, among other things, controls public gatherings and forbids the media from printing stories that “undermine the Government and the State of Fiji.” These rules allow the Permanent Secretary of Information the ability to place censors in newsrooms, accompanied by plainclothes policeman.

Fiji’s government says the 30-day extension was “highly necessary,” and the censorship will “help the country’s progress towards democracy.” “The people of Fiji are now experiencing a remarkable change from what used to be highly negative and sensationalized news to a more positive, balanced and responsible reporting by the media,” said Government and Military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi Leweni.

Prime Minister and military commander Frank Bainimarama told a Fiji-born journalist now living and working in Australia, that he hopes to mold Fiji into a smaller version of Singapore, where keeping the peace ranks higher than freedom of expression.

In a post at Raw Fiji News, a writer called fijidemocracynow2009 doubts the government’s claims of reforming the country’s race-based electoral code and moving Fiji to a post-racial society.

The dictator says censorship is necessary for his regime to push ahead with reforms without the hindrance of media opposition.
That is a big lie. The dictator has no intention of relinquishing power, which is exactly what he would have to do if there were to be reforms that eventually led to elections.
The truth is that the comprehensive censorship of our media is designed to cover up Frank Bainimarama’s criminality.
The information blackout is supposed to prevent us and the rest of the world from watching the dictator consolidate his one-man rule for the long term.
He doesn’t want journalists reporting the ongoing intimidation of the regime’s critics or questioning actions such as the release of the convicted killers of Sakiusa Rabaka and Nimilote Verebasaga.
No, he wants a clean shot at turning Fiji into Bainimaramaland.
But, thanks to Fiji’s Freedom Bloggers his movements are being closely monitored and faithfully reported. So censorship is NOT working!

So far, at least two local journalists have been detained for allegedly breaking the emergency regulations. Most recently, Coup Four And A Half reports, two more journalists, this time from the website Fiji Live, were taken into custody 3 PM Saturday, May 9 for allegedly reporting and publishing an article regarding the early release of members of the country’s security forces who were jailed for manslaughter after being convicted of torturing and killing three civilians in early 2007. These alleged detentions have not yet been confirmed. Update: Police have confirmed they are questioning the two reporters.

The government of Fiji has also deported three foreign journalists in the previous two months.

In other news, Netani Rika, editor of the Fiji Times, discussed media freedom at the Pacific Freedom Forum XIX, supposed to take place in Fiji, but the country’s political climate forced organizers to change the venue to Apia, Samoa.

Rika’s speech marked the first time a Fiji-based journalist spoke of working conditions under the new rules. He reported that since the Emergency Rules were introduced April 10, the number of censors have increased in newsrooms. Other than the worries of self-censorship practiced by journalists, Rika said one of the problems facing Fiji’s media is the inconsistency of rules that exist between different censors. The Fiji Times newspaper continues to report on political events, he said, much of those stories are cut from the newspaper. However, some censors are stricter than others. Which stories make the paper remains at the discretion of the censor on duty.

From Rika’s speech at the Pacific Freedom Forum event, published in Coup Four And A Half:

To say that Fiji’s media has been under fire since December 2006 is no exaggeration.

We have been threatened, bullied and intimidated. Our cars have been smashed, our homes firebombed.

Despite this, our staff have remained committed to the ideals of a free media, telling the stories that must be told, exposing the weaknesses in State policies and also covering human interest assignments.

It is because of their commitment and refusal to detract from the cause that the interim government has been forced to gag the media.

It is important in these trying circumstances for senior journalists and managers to maintain a brave face and communicate constantly with their staff, offering support and protection.

It is also imperative that we offer guidance and direction and stress the importance of the role of a vibrant, free press in a democracy.

Offering a rebuttal, Real Fiji News, a new pro-government blog, said it was “amazing that [Rika] went all the way to Samoa to tell the audience this piece of useless information.”

Ok, so lets not forget this Netani, you had been warned several times about biased reporting, no one was stopping you ‘telling the truth’. It is unfortunate that you are blinded by your own self loathing of the IG. If you actually reported correctly you wouldn’t have been censored.

Stuck in Fiji M.U.D. says that journalists are missing the region’s larger story while sticking to story of media freedom in the Pacific.

Ironically, while those journalists were enjoying their well-endorsed junket in Apia, oblivious to the fact that media freedom is not the central story.

It seems that, the diplomatic negotiations to the Pacific Free Trade Plan (PACER Plus) and the detrimental effects of this Trans-Tasman lobbied treaty; has somewhat not registered highly on their list of priorities; despite the notion that those negotiations affect all Pacific Island states.

Is the lack of coverage on those trades negotiations, a clear demonstration that most news published in the Pacific, is viewed through the prism of their Australian or New Zealand Publisher or Editor?

The funny thing about these Pacific media Forums is that these journalists, really don't focus much on Pacific trade negotiations with EU, US or Australia or New Zealand or even in-depth coverage of their own industry and the future trends of their profession based on the current global events like the changing landscape of the news paper business.
It's just that Freedom of the Media, is a story that elevates sales and elevated sales mean elevated circulations. SiFM fills in this lack of analytical and balanced coverage.

New Zealand-based journalist and academic David Robie, who attended the meeting, has a similar line of argument. He reports that Fiji’s problems sometimes overshadowed other regional issues at the meeting.

From Café Pacific:

PACIFIC media freedom advocates meeting in Apia, Samoa, this week did their best to keep the Fiji censorship problem in proportion and give other regional issues a good hearing. But it was tough. The Fiji challenge kept bubbling to the surface, leading to a spirited debate on the future of [Pacific Islands News Association] at one session and feisty calls for the regional news service Pacnews to get out of Suva at others. Fiji dominated all the speeches on the opening day with several of the region's media freedom heavyweights giving the regime a hard time – but they also warned that the young generation coming through into the industry should not be seduced by government freebies.

A bit off topic, but only a bit. Loyal Fijian criticizes international media organizations for allowing parachute journalists to briefly land Fiji and report on rumors and hearsay and then wonder why the reporters are asked to leave.

And so, we have a certain so-called journalist who thinks he has a god given right to jet in and out as and when he wishes.

We are a small country sir, but we are a sovereign nation. The citizens of this country expect our authorities to maintain law and order.

If a journalist does their job to report fairly and with balance, that's a different story. But what about someone who is publishing a blog filled with rumour , speculation and innuendo aimed at humiliating senior public figures and even inciting unrest and mutiny.

There is a story being peddled by this NZ based self-proclaimed journalist that the Commander of the FMF had an attachment with the Chilean navy ages ago and then goes on to very mischievously suggest that this somehow has a bearing on what's happening in Fiji now.

I-War 101. The Big Lie Theory! Dont let the truth get in the way of a good story…

whats next? Accuse an FMF officer who has been through the American officer training facility in Hawaii (a highly rewarding experience, we are told) of being complicit in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?

What hypocrisy and rumour mongering!

That's where this bloke crosses the line. Using bits and pieces of hearsay to try and conjure up an image in order to achieve a political objective.

That's not journalism, that's propaganda.

When the current government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama dissolved Parliament and ousted the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in December 2006, they instituted roughly six months of similar emergency rules, but with no censors in newsrooms. However, journalists complained of “working in an environment of fear, of persecution and
harassment” because of actions by members of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

These most recent Emergency Rules began shortly after April 9, 2009 when judges ruled that Bainimarama came into power illegally, forcing him to step down and the country’s president to appoint a caretaker government to lead the country to new elections. The president argued he had no such constitutional powers. Instead, he annulled the 1997 constitution, fired the entire judiciary and eventually reappointed Bainimarama’s government to a five-year mandate, claiming elections would be held in 2014.

  • warren

    Following my personal curiosity with regards to the events leading from one coup to another, in particular the most recent, I acknowledged the surfacing of a kindling instinctive drive to enquire into the so called ‘game’ and the players of that game, all I can sum up is that if it’s not such a good game to play, decide to opt out of it and see why
    before endeavouring to begin a new one! Certainly no one will be forced to learn a game, because for something to be called game, it’s supposed to
    have an intrinsic element of fun to it. If the former work
    to decide, stop and ask ‘why’ is complete there is every reason to believe that it could ferment new possibilities
    for the future. By the way, there there is ‘no hurry…’
    for the new ‘game’ to begin.
    Haste doesn’t clear the foulness of a game deidedly undesirable nor does it give proper caress for any formerly spent exertions, noble or not. In all honesty, let the rainbow
    show of it’s own and for the moment one can be grateful as ever for the promise of the rains…

    Why…???

  • Aussie & Kiwi Interference unwelcome

    Leave Fiji alone! We don’t need you, your journalists, or your one-sided trade agreement.

  • JQ

    I was a tourist visiting Fiji in January from the US, and loved your country. I was sympathetic to the current regime and the difficulties it faces insuring a fair electoral system. But today I cannot recommend to my friends that they visit as I did. We have just too much uncertainty about what’s really happening in the country. A free press, even if it comes at the cost of occasional “rumour , speculation and innuendo aimed at humiliating senior public figures” is the only guarantee I know of that truth will not be suppressed.

    Fiji can survive without tourism, but does it want to?

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