A Message From Media-Gagged Fiji

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Last Friday, a gag was placed on all Fijian media which bans them from printing or broadcasting any news that the interim Fijian government views as "negative" or which may encourage protest or unrest.

Since the weekend, the Ministry of Information has been monitoring all media outlets, going through all the current affairs content and pulling out any of the items which they feel are anti-government.

So far none of the media outlets have gone against this directive, as there’s a real threat that if they do not abide by the regulations, they will be shut down.

Earlier this year, military commander Colonel Pita Driti said that if he had his way, he would shut down the country’s oldest newspaper the Fiji Times and also the Fiji Television newsroom. The colonel claimed that both outlets were anti-government and were not providing balanced reports.

Since the gag was put in place, the Fiji Sun newspaper has taken a stand by declaring that it won’t print any political stories at all, either for or against the interim government. The paper is now printing two-pages of opinion in place of its political coverage, with pictures and short comments regarding day to day issues — on Wednesday the topic was the condition of buses in Fiji and today: how to revive the sugar industry.

Yesterday, the Fiji Times printed this statement on page 2: "This paper is being produced in accordance with section 16 of the Public Emergency Regulations 2009, Control of Broadcast and Publications."

On Tuesday, the interim government deported ABC journalist Sean Dorney, as well as a television crew from New Zealand. A journalist for Fiji TV, Edwin Nand, was also detained by police in Suva for 36 hours for questioning over his interview with Dorney a few hours before immigration officers moved to serve him with his deportation papers.

On the same day police also took in the President of the Fiji Law Society, Dorsami Naidu, for questioning. Naidu, a veteran lawyer based in Nadi, was held for 24 hours and faced two rounds of questioning before being released. Police interrogated Naidu about why he was seen with his fellow members at a café opposite the Lautoka High Court on Tuesday morning.

Police claimed they had information that Naidu was having a meeting with his members — under the "emergency" measures, police have the power to arrest, detain or question anyone seen to be having a meeting in a public place. Naidu denied this, however, saying they were at the café because they had been told by police officers at the High and Magistrate’s courts that no lawyers, judges or magistrates would be allowed to enter the premises, as all the judiciary had been sacked.

Police also rounded up three members of the media: Fiji Times Photographer Jai Prasad and Fiji TV journalist, Ranbeer Singh, and cameraman, Harry Tabanidalo, for taking pictures of the officers confronting Naidu and escorting him to the Lautoka Police Station. The three were released by police after an hour.

Half an hour later, police entered the Fiji Times and Fiji TV offices with search warrants and confiscated a digital camera chip and video tape which contained shots of the officers escorting Naidu. No charges were laid against Naidu or the members of the media.

Journalists have been instructed by their editors about how to conduct themselves during this challenging and difficult period. While most journalists are still covering political issues, 99 per cent of the time their stories are pulled by the censoring panel based at each of the media outlets.

And while this may seem like a waste of time to some, at least it allows Fijian journalists to go home at the end of the day knowing that they have done their job of holding the powerful to account to the best of their ability.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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