Thursday, April 08, 2010

Drastic Tightening of Fiji Media is Alarming

"Far from restoring democracy, it is heading in the opposite direction."

A drastic tightening of Fiji media is alarming, New Zealand's media freedom watchdog says.

Military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama yesterday issued a draft media decree which will increase censorship of Fiji's press. It will also force Rupert Murdoch's Fiji Times to close, or sell out to locals.

Newspaper Publishers' Association chief executive and NZ Media Freedom Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst said the Bainimarama regime's issuing of a new media decree yesterday is clearly aimed at totally muzzling an already repressed media.

"It is disturbing that the regime is now moving to cement in place emergency regulations imposed a year ago that have seen censors installed in newsrooms," he said.

"Highly oppressive restrictions will be entrenched under a proposed Media Industry Development Decree 2010 that makes military strongmen the arbiters of independent, quality journalism.

"It not only targets editors and their journalists. Any members of the public brave enough to express dissenting views are also in line for crippling fines, ill treatment and jail.

"Media outlets may be fined up to $500,000 Fiji (about NZ$344,00 ) and individual journalist up to F$100,000 (NZ$69,000) and be jailed for up to five years if they do not comply with the decree's dictates."

Pankhurst said offences included such "crimes" as criticizing the government and even failing to run bylines. Foreign media ownership was also restricted.

Officers were empowered to enter newsrooms and seize any notes, documents, or equipment.

"Soldiers overseeing the media is a characteristic of a dictatorship," Pankhurst said.

"There doesn't seem to be any reasoning with an increasingly unsavoury regime that deserves to be isolated and condemned.

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