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Fiji regime forces sports commentator's resignation

Regional media monitoring network the Pacific Freedom Forum has condemned the forced resignation of one of the region's leading sports commentators, Fiji TV's Satish Narain.

Neither Narain nor station management have replied to questions from PFF, who've received reliable information that the resignation followed an ultimatum by phone call from Fiji's regime leader, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, to Fiji TV's management that they had to choose between keeping Narain on staff, or losing their broadcast licence.

"This deplorable action is a clear abuse of power and authority, and highlights the vulnerable situation of media organisations such as Fiji TV, let alone journalists whose work is deemed 'offensive' by public figures," says PFF co-chair Titi Gabi of PNG.

"We continue to urge Pacific leaders and members of the public to take their grievances with media standards and content directly and in writing to the outlet involved as the first step in a complaints process."

News of the resignation broke on social networks on the afternoon of June 18 2013. Weeks before, the station was forced to apologise for an on-air comment Narain made on Thursday 16 May at Fiji's 2013 Coca Cola Games, when he referred in his live commentary to the loud music coming from the PA system during the races, saying "CEO Litiana should do something about it."

Litiana is Litiana Loabuka, the CEO of the Fiji Sports Council. Loabuka is the eldest daughter of Fiji's regime leader Frank Bainimarama.

Within days of his comment, the station had been banned from all Fiji Sports Council premises in Suva and had to issue a public apology for the "adverse comments against Loabuka and the organisation."

"The forced resignation of a well-respected Pacific sports commentator of Narain's calibre does not just end a prolific 16-year career in broadcasting. It proves beyond the doubt that media jobs and journalists are not free to work without fear or favour. On the contrary, all it takes is a phone call to make 'annoying' journalists 'disappear'."

PFF calls on the regime to take a mature and consistent approach to the media industry, and remains 'extremely concerned' over the level of interference and harassment demonstrated in this matter.

"We continue to stand in solidarity with our media colleagues in Fiji as they continue to work in an industry controlled by decree, and with the threats to job security affecting those in certain media outlets," says PFF co Chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

"It's important in the build up to the 2014 elections that a free and strong media industry be allowed to do its work and we urge the regime leadership to put aside bullying and threats when dealing with media. It's an approach grounded in fear, which perpetuates more fear and silence. It threatens to make a mockery of any claim to democratic elections."

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