Thursday, April 08, 2010

Deported publisher: media decree much worse than we thought


An early victim of the hardline media policies of Fiji's illegal government, says the proposed media decree is worse than expected.

Russell Hunter was the first of three Australian publishers to be deported by the junta in 2008, with the illegal government claiming he was conducting himself in a manner "prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, security and stability of the sovereign state of the Fiji Islands." 

An Australian citizen, he was taken from his home and kept in custody until he was placed on a flight out of Nadi to Sydney. He had only $20 in his pocket and the clothes on his back at the time.

With Hunter at the helm, the Fiji Sun had published a number of investigative stories deemed anti-government, including accounts of the failure by then Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudry, to pay his taxes on time.

Now working for the Samoa Observer, Hunter says the worse provision in the proposed decree is the one that sanctions journalists and editors to be  imprisoned for up to five years and media organisations to be fined up to half a million Fijian dollars if they breach the code.

Hunter says the Fiji media is a shadow of its former self thanks to the censorship imposed under the Public Emergency Regulations and that the proposed decree will put it completely under the control of the illegal government.

He believes the decree will cause the industry to contract, with people going out of business and even more of Fiji's brightest talent heading overseas.

Hunter says the planned Media Industry Development Authority is very dangerous because journalists and editors will not be able to challenge any of its decisions in any court.

And he says the intent to have media organisations owned at least 90 per cent by locals, sends a bad message to investors (that there's no security in Fiji if the junta doesn't like you) and that aid donors will not like it. 

Hunter believes the interim government already has someone lined up to take over the Australian owned Fiji Times. He says there's a good chance it will be a local but the regime could also venture outside of the industry to find the person who would toe the line.

He says the Fiji Times, the country's oldest paper, has essentially been expropriated by the junta and that while Rupert Murdoch would put up a fight, he's unlikely to move to Suva. 

Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd issued a statement yesterday, after the decree was revealed at the first public consultation in Suva, saying it was 100 per cent behind the people of Fiji and was making representation to the interim government.

Two other publishers have been deported by the junta - Australians Evan Hannah and Rex Gardner from the Fiji Times.

Picture Above: Russell Hunter talking to media after he arrived back in Sydney

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