Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Illegal Fiji Regime Defends Repressive Laws to Jail Journos

by Michael McKenna

The Australian June 30, 2010

THE media regulator for Fiji's military regime has defended laws that will jail journalists and slash foreign investment.
The military claims the laws are necessary after years of "abusive and scurrilous" reporting about the coup and the scrapping of the Pacific nation's constitution.

Former Canberra-based academic Satendra Nandan, chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority, said action needed to be taken against outlets such as The Fiji Times, which had taken a "strong stand" against Fijian dictator Frank Bainimarama, who took power in 2006.

The new laws impose fines and jail terms of two years for journalists and editors, and orders that all media outlets must be 90 per cent owned by Fijian citizens who live permanently in the island nation.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and the International Federation of Journalists were yesterday among those condemning the new laws, which became effective on Monday.

The Fiji Times -- one of the oldest newspapers in the Asia-Pacific region -- is wholly owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian, and has three months to comply with the decree or be closed down. It has its own board, which includes several Fijian nationals as directors.

Professor Nandan told The Australian he believed the foreign ownership laws were directed at The Fiji Times because of its coverage of the military regime, particularly after the scrapping of the judiciary and constitution last year. "The Fiji Times is an institution, a part of everyday life here, and has a number of very fine journalists," he said.

"We had a media that was vibrant and vigilant until things went wrong in 2006 (the coup) and then some parts of the media became abusive and scurrilous.

"The Fiji Times took a strong stand against the current government and the abrogation of the constitution and they didn't consider the national interest."

The Dean of Humanities at the University of Fiji, Professor Nandan was appointed to the role with the government announcing that was a "trained journalist".

He conceded yesterday that his training was limited to "about nine months" working as a reporter and sub-editor for The Statesman newspaper, in India, in the 1960s.

News Limited last night declined to comment on its intentions with The Fiji Times.

Mr Smith said the new laws were another example of Commodore Bainimarama's interim government attacking free speech and democracy. 

"We worry very much that this arbitrary move sends a very bad signal as far as future investment in Fiji is concerned, let alone the very bad signal it sends in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and democratic rights."

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