12 Apr 2009

Fiji media face government censorship

9:10 pm on 12 April 2009

A clamp-down on the media in Fiji has prompted both print and broadcast outlets to cut some of their reports.

Sources in Fiji have confirmed that Fiji TV pulled Sunday's 6pm news show due to censorship.

Fiji came under emergency rules which limit public assembly and officials from the Ministry of Information were installed in newsrooms, after Fiji's President axed the constitution on Saturday.

President Iloilo also reappointed the former interim government and reinstated Commodore Frank Bainimarama as Prime Minister.

He dismissed the country's judges.

President Iloilo reinstated the government just three days after a Court of Appeal ruling found that the 2006 military coup was illegal.

Elections will not be held for another five years.

The president's actions followed a Court of Appeal ruling on Thursday which found the 2006 interim government was illegal.

Sunday's edition of The Fiji Times has a blank second page. Stories and a cartoon are missing from page three, with the paper blaming government restrictions for their absence.

However, a Fijian source says the paper has been warned not to do this again.

Radio New Zealand has spoken to representatives from several Fiji groups who are reluctant to be quoted because of the regulations.

A correspondent in Suva says people feel they've been returned to the days of the 2006 military coup: ordinary people are not discussing what's happening because they do not trust anyone except very close friends.

Severe economic consequences

Fiji's Council of Trade Unions says the suspension of the country's constitution and the reappointment of its military leader as interim Prime Minister will have far-reaching economic consequences.

The Fiji Island's Council of Trade Unions general secretary Attar Singh says the court ruling should have paved the way for fresh elections, but has instead been ignored.

He says the country is already seeing falling incomes for workers and farmers, as well as job losses and increased poverty, and the president's actions will make things worse.

Mr Singh says the constitution cannot legally be abolished, and can only be amended under the terms of its own rules.

International condemnation

New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully believes Fiji will now inevitably be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Mr McCully says the process by which Commodore Bainimarama has been re-appointed is a sham.

He says the measures accompanying the process are particularly unsettling.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Fiji is now "virtually a military dictatorship".

The ABC quotes Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Crean as saying democracy must be returned to the country as soon as possible.

He says Fiji may face expulsion from the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum.

Mr McCully says the Commonwealth and the United Nations agreed to be part of a presidential dialogue in Fiji and they will now be reassessing the sincerity of Fiji's government.

Commodore Bainimarama seized power in December 2006 and was installed as interim prime minister a month later. It was the fourth coup in Fiji since 1987.