Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fiji journalist tells of military intimidation

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Update: 2.39pm A FIJI delegation of journalists have described how they are being intimidated by Fiji's military-led government.

At the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) conference in Solomon Islands this week, they have told of receiving phone calls from the military demanding their presence at the Queen Elizabeth barracks.

The manager of news, current affairs and sport at Fiji Television, Netani Rika, has told Geraldine Coutts of Radio Australia how he was called to the barracks.

Here is the transcript of the interview.

RIKA: I suppose the circumstance seen in Fiji at the moment mean that journalists live under the threat of the gun. They're always mindful of the fact that anything that they do can and may be questioned by the people in authority. When that happens, they immediately begin to practice a form of journalism which will keep them out of trouble. And when that happens, it means that the whole truth will not come out and therefore we live in dangerous times for the industry, for the media


COUTTS: I just wonder whether, and it's not too painful if you can go through the circumstances of your phone call from those authorities?

RIKA: I received a phone call about quarter to nine in the morning. The caller identified himself as a senior officer in the military, told me what his position in the military was and said that, demanded that I produce myself at the military barrack by 9 o'clock on that morning. When I arrived, he had told me that I would be directed to as to what to do next when I arrived at the camp. And when I got there, my keys and mobile phone were handed in to the guards at the gate and I was directed to a cell, where I remained for an hour and a half, before I was verbally threatened, the safety of my family and the workplace

were threatened by the soldier, a corporal, threatened violence on me, did not actually touch me, although he did spit on me. And about after an hour and a half later, the officer who had called me, inviting me for discussions at the military headquarters arrived, proceeded to lecture me on the responsibility of the media in our society and in the end said well some harsh things may have been said over the course of this morning and hope we can part as friends, and we parted.

COUTTS: Just again, not to put too fine a point on it, but there was quite a bit of intimidation along with the spitting that went on, in terms of where you were placed in the cell and their position of the person who was interrogating you, if you like, and the instruments of intimidation that were used?

RIKA: It's difficult if you were sitting on the floor of a cell. The person who comes in to harangue you, stands about 6 foot 3, 6 foot 4 in height and is about the same width across the shoulders and the person who then who follows sits on a chair, you sit on the floor, and the pistol strapped to his leg is directed at the level of your eyes. So yeah, intimidation and there was a lot of a psychological battle I suppose that went on, even while I was sitting in the cell I could hear a conversation in the guard room, in which soldiers were attempting to put across a message to me I suppose that people within Fiji TV were leaking information to the military or were in collusion with the meeting. I don't believe that any of our staff were colluding with the military, but it was a pretty effective way of I suppose wearing one down. After hearing this, I suppose it was meant to dishearten a person, and then while the person is still disheartened, a big person comes in and

makes a verbal assault on you. And then at the end, someone comes in and tries to play the good cop I suppose. It's just yeah a form of intimidation. But you can understand that if they do it to the person whose in charge of a news room, of course it's going to have a flaw and effect down the line, and people are going to worry about the security of their families, the security of their person, of their homes, and it's then that they're going to start holding back, I suppose, it's take

a very strong willed person to stand up to such pressure. And we are a small community. Everybody knows each other. People talk to each other all the time. You never know when somebody is going to wilfully say something about you to someone who has the ability or the ability to harm you, whether physically or mentally.

COUTTS: You've had the phone call. Other colleagues here today have had the phone call. Are others still getting them?

RIKA: Oh yes, the most recent phone call to our newsroom came just at the beginning of this week. So the phone calls continue to come. I'm sure that they're phone calls which come to our people which they do not report. Unfortunately, there are cases now where people who have no ability to do anything or have no authority within the military or within the government to carry out the threats that they make, are actually starting to make threats on the phone. So, do you know whose making the call? Do you know whether that person is able to do anything to you in actual fact and what do you do about it? Who do complain to?

COUTTS: You also expressed a concern, a fear, that when and if the day comes, that we are all silent. What happens?

RIKA: No, Fiji's been through the coups of 87, 2000 and now 2006 and the truth has not come out yet. About 87, we don't know the true circumstances of what happened and who was responsible. In 2000, we don't know who was behind George Speight. In 1987, Rabuka has always said that it was the late Sir Ratu Kamisesi Mara who gave him the go ahead.

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