15 April 2009

Foreign journalists deported, media censored in state of emergency

A screengrab from a TVNZ interview shows blank spaces left in
A screengrab from a TVNZ interview shows blank spaces left in "Fiji Times" after censorship from regime "information officers." A Fiji media worker was later detained for sending this footage to TVNZ
Pacific Freedom Forum

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The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are demanding that Fiji's military government stop deporting journalists and censoring the media after the government declared a 30-day state of emergency last week.

Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo declared the emergency on 10 April, overturning the constitution and firing the judiciary, after the court of appeal ruled that a December 2006 coup led by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was illegal, said news reports.

Sean Dorney, an ABC Television journalist from Australia whose reports were being broadcast on Fiji's main television station Fiji One, and reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith from New Zealand's TV 3 network, said on 13 April that immigration officials ordered them to leave the country because of their reporting on the political crisis. According to news reports, they were deported the next day.

A local Fiji Television journalist, Edwin Nand, was also taken into custody, allegedly for reporting on Dorney's deportation.

Local news reports critical of the government have been banned during the state of emergency, Bainimarama announced on 11 April. He also posted "information officers" in Fiji's newsrooms to monitor reports that might "incite disorder," say the IFEX members.

"The introduction of blanket censorship during the emergency calls the government's commitment to restoring democracy into serious doubt," said CPJ.

Meanwhile, local media protested the new censorship by cancelling news broadcast and leaving pages of newspapers blank.

A front page story of "Fiji Sun" announced that the paper would no longer publish political stories because of the new censorship directive.

Page two of the Sunday edition of "Fiji Times" was blank except for a notice: "The stories on this page could not be published because of Government restrictions."

Fiji One replaced an evening news bulletin on 12 April with the message, "Viewers please be advised that there will be no 6 p.m. news tonight."

"The free and peace loving people of Fiji are being silenced by the barrel of the gun and by taking control of the news media and banning news on events taking place against the regime. This shows a serious move on the part of the interim government to take its people back to the dark ages," said PINA.

The Pacific Freedom Forum, with active members among Pacific journalists, editors, producers and journalism academics, will soon be launching an online petition for individuals and organisations worldwide to express continuing strong solidarity with journalists and media organisations in Fiji. The petition will be presented to relevant Pacific leaders on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May.

Bainimarama has said he will eventually hold elections to restore democracy, after he rewrites the constitution and electoral laws to remove what he says is racial discrimination against a large ethnic Indian minority.

Australia, the U.S., the UN and others accuse Bainimarama of dragging his feet on reinstating democracy. Many nations have imposed sanctions, and the country's tourism- and sugar export-dependent economy has plummeted since the coup.

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