29 Jun 2010

Fiji reneges on promise to end censorship

10:47 pm on 29 June 2010

Fiji's interim government has reneged on its repeatedly stated promise to end censorship once its media decree was enacted.

The decree was published this week, but the interim government says its emergency provisions will remain in place.

The regime's leader, Frank Bainimarama, has been tightening controls on the media since he overthrew the elected government in a 2006 coup.

Under the new decree, editors and journalists can be fined or jailed for breaches, which Amnesty International says will extend the already widespread censorship of newspapers and broadcasters in Fiji.

Amnesty says the country's isolation has deepened as the interim regime turns the screw on dissenting voices.

But Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information, Sharon Smith-Johns, has dismissed the criticism, saying it is most unfair.

She says for the first time, Fiji has legislation that is all encompassing and empowers the people by ensuring that their views are heard.

Fiji Times boss outraged

Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd has spoken out against a provision aimed at reducing foreign ownership of its newspaper, the Fiji Times to 10%.

News Ltd has three months to sell or close the newspaper, which is Fiji's oldest.

Chairman and chief executive John Hartigan described the decree as an appalling assault on free speech and a terrible blow for the fragile economy of Fiji.

In a statement, he says it puts at risk the jobs of nearly 200 people working for the paper in Suva, Nadi and Labasa, and threatens more than 1000 others whose livelihood is based on selling the Fiji Times.

Calls for NZ to support Fiji media freedom

Tim Pankhurst, from the New Zealand-based Media Freedom Committee, is urging the New Zealand and Australian governments to do more to condemn media restrictions.

Prime Minister John Key says the rules appear heavy-handed and "a step too far". He says it falls to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to raise any concerns with Fiji's military leader.

Labour leader Phil Goff says New Zealand must speak out in the strongest terms against the media restrictions, which he says are undemocratic. He says people in Fiji deserve to be well informed and not have their media censored.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith has condemned the decision to ban foreign ownership of Fiji's media.

He says imposing a minimum 90% local ownership level on media outlets will limit investment in Fiji.