17 Apr 2009

Media in Fiji told to adopt 'journalism of hope'

10:25 pm on 17 April 2009

Fiji's self-appointed leaders told journalists on Friday they must "get on board" and adopt an edict which the military regime is calling "the journalism of hope".

There has been heavy censorship of media and foreign journalists, including a team from TV 3 in New Zealand, have been expelled since emergency regulations came into force last week.

The military-led government says foreign journalists can visit, if they report accurately and responsibly. They must apply to the Permanent Secretary, who will assess their past coverage of Fiji.

The regime has told Fiji-based journalists who do stories for foreign media outlets that they must behave. Reporters have been told to adopt what it is calling "the journalism of hope", which involves only doing positive stories.

All media in Fiji are banned from writing anti-government stories and censors have been stationed at each media outlet to check stories before they are published or broadcast.

Journalists and foreign correspondents in the Pacific nation were warned on Thursday that Public Emergency Regulations could be extended for another 30 days if any negative reporting is published against the interim regime.

Under the regulations, imposed after the 1997 constitution was revoked last week, the Permanent Secretary for Information has total power to control broadcasts and publications in Fiji.

Senior journalists, including editors, were ordered to appear before the military-appointed Permanent Secretary, Major Neumi Leweni, on Thursday.

Radio New Zealand's correspondent in Fiji Matelita Ragogo said journalists were told that these were the new laws under a new legal order.

Local reporter Pita Ligaiula, who also writes for the Australian Associated Press, was arrested on Thursday but has since been released after spending a night in a police cell. Authorities were reportedly unhappy about stories published in several Australian newspapers carrying his byline.

On Wednesday, journalist Kavai Damu from the web-based news service Fijilive was taken in for police questioning after he wrote a story against the devaluation of the Fiji dollar. He was later released with a warning.

Cautious response from NZ media

New Zealand media are responding cautiously to the Fiji government's announcement that foreign journalists are welcome in the country.

Television New Zealand's head of news Anthony Flannery says the broadcaster must regard the statement with some scepticism.

He says TVNZ has always covered Fiji affairs responsibly, but its correspondent Barbara Dreaver was still deported the last time she visited.

TV3 is considering the offer.

Linden Clark, the manager of Radio New Zealand International, says the organisation has already applied to send a journalist.

The Fiji Times has refused to publish an advertisement for Radio New Zealand International, saying the military-led government could see it as provocative.

ABC ordered to shut down transmitters

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been ordered to shut down its two FM transmitters - a move that also affects Radio New Zealand International, which re-broadcasts programmes via the ABC.

ABC Radio Australia said on Friday it has been told not to expect its FM transmissions in Fiji to start again for at least a month.

However, both transmitters are still broadcasting to Fiji on shortwave.

Blog sites under pressure

Fiji's Ministry of Information has been trying to shut down blog sites, and silence those who run them.

Several blog sites carrying news from Fiji say internet cafe owners have been told to shut down while their business permits, internet networks, software, technology and archives are investigated and approved by government officials.

There have been claims that government workers have lost web access.

The man behind the Intelligentsiya blog says he has managed to elude authorities so far. He says he is scared of being found out, but says the work of bloggers must go on and the truth needs to be told.

The website Raw Fiji News says internet cafe owners have so far resisted pressure to close.

Forum wants goverments to speak out

The Pacific Freedom Forum on Friday appealed to regional governments to speak out against the treatment of media in Fiji.

Chairperson Susuve Laumaea says it is the worst he has ever seen. He says authorities in Fiji cannot stop the flow of information totally and the true story of what is happening will be told.

"The media has a role to play and to be able to help the government focus on doing the right type of things that advance the cause for a return to democracy in Fiji," he says.