Fiji set to clamp down on a free media

Most people are familiar with the saying two steps forward and one step back to describe a situation of slow progress.

That has been my hope for , that with a set date for elections in 2014, there would be some progress. But alas, the situation is looking more like one step forward and two steps back.

The Fijian Government has released a draft decree of proposed . It would make Fiji even more repressive in terms of media freedom.

NZPA report:

The regime of self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama yesterday issued a new media decree which Newspaper Publishers’ Association chief executive and New Zealand Media Freedom Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst described as “highly oppressive”. …

“It not only targets editors and their journalists. Any members of the public brave enough to express dissenting views are also in line for crippling fines, ill treatment and jail.”

Media outlets could be fined up to F$500,000 (about NZ$344,000) and individual journalists up to F$100,000 (NZ$69,000) and be jailed for up to five years if they failed to comply with the decree’s dictates.

Offences included such “crimes” as criticising the government and even failing to run bylines, Mr Pankhurst said. Foreign media ownership was also restricted.

The foreign media restrictions are an attempt to close down the Fiji Times. The Commodore hates them especially as they refuse to describe him as the Prime Minister, unless he actually wins an election to that post.

Some aspects from the media decree:

  • The Minister of Information personally appoints, and can sack at any time, the Director of the Media Industry Development Authority
  • One of the tasks of the MIDA is to ban any material which creates “communal discord”
  • MIDA will require all media organisations to be registered with them
  • Breaches of MIDA rules will carry a potential penalty of $500,000 for an organisation and $100,000 plus five years in jail for individuals.
  • MIDA has police like powers to search and seize documents from media organisations
  • Bans foreign ownership of over 10% in a media organisation, which will close down the Fiji Times.
  • Sets up a Tribunal with the Chair appointed by the Attorney-General to hear complaints, and which must act within “guidelines’ given by the Minister
  • The Minister can by order prohibit any broadcast or publication that may give rise to disorder, and can demand copies in advance
  • The decree explicitly forbids any Court hearing a challenge to not just the legality of this decree, but any decisions made by the Authority, Tribunal or Minister under this decree
  • The media code bans “hypnotism” and “demonstrating exorcism”!

Cafe Pacific has a good analysis of the decree.

Coup 4,5 report:

This is very broad so it will be interesting to see what kind of stories come under this criteria. Censors are already stopping the publication of stories which make the interim government look bad; eg water and power cuts and bad road conditions leading to pot holes.

This clause really means any stories which the interim regime doesn’t like because it exposes them or shows that they’re not doing a good job, is not in their interest and offends them as it creates communal discord.

The communal disorder clause is what will allow the Government to ban anything which criticises the Government, or if it gets published to imprison the journalist for up to five years.

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