Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Illegal Fiji Regime Moves to Extend Control Over Media

Associated Press - 7 April, 2010

Fiji's military-led regime released a draft decree Wednesday that would extend its already tight control over the South Pacific nation's media, currently subject to daily censorship of news, observers said.

Since Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in a gun-barrel coup in December 2006, foreign reporters and media managers have been expelled, journalists have been arrested and interrogated and military censors have operated in media newsrooms on a daily basis.

The military leader said the proposed decree, which has a three-day consultation period, would establish a better relationship with the media, adding: "They have no choice but to take part."

"Nobody is going to escape this consultation and there are ground rules for people of the press to speak on."

Fiji Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said the decree would establish a media code of standards in ethics and practice while emphasizing "fair, accurate and responsible reporting."

The decree would also establish a media industry development authority to monitor the media's compliance with the code and ensure that nothing is printed or broadcast that is against national interest or public order, Khaiyum said. There would also be restrictions on cross-media ownership. Khaiyum said that the decree could be in force within weeks, though he gave no firm date for its implementation.

New Zealand media law expert, Professor Ursula Cheer of Canterbury University, said the draft decree doesn't mention freedom of expression but dwells on exerting control.

"This appears to be all about control — control of ownership, control of content and control of just anything connected with publishing in Fiji," said Cheer.

Breaching proposed content regulations could result in organizations being fined up to half a million Fiji dollars ($259,000). Publishers, editors or journalists could face a fine of up to $100,000 Fiji dollars ($52,000) and up to five years in prison.

Regulations would require all printed news to name the author and similar provisions would apply to broadcast material.

Media organizations would have to be registered, with one provision requiring 90 percent ownership by Fiji citizens. That provision would affect the Fiji Times, owned by News Limited, an Australian subsidiary of U.S.-based News Corp.

The Fiji Times, along with state-owned Fiji Television, initially were barred from taking part in the consultation, a ban lifted by the regime in what it called a spirit of inclusiveness.

The nation's oldest and largest newspaper has a long history of opposing coup-led governments.

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