Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Smith and Key Condemns Fiji Press Crackdown

ABC News - 30 June 2010

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith has condemned a decision by Fiji's military-backed government to ban foreign ownership of the media.

News Limited has owned and operated the Fiji Times for 23 years, but the military government has now ruled that media organisations must be 90 per cent locally owned.

News Limited has now been given just three months to sell the Fiji Times or see it forced to close.

Mr Smith says it is another example of Commodore Frank 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," he said.

New Zealand agrees the move goes too far.

New Zealand prime minister John Key described the Fijian decree as "very heavy-handed".

He says when a country starts banning the media and telling organisations to sell their newspapers, it is "a step too far".

News Limited has expressed outrage at the decree, which was gazetted on Monday by the military-backed interim regime.

The final decree, as highlighted in a draft released earlier this year, will create a media authority and tribunal based on a model used to manage the media in Singapore.

It will also limit foreign ownership of media operations to just 10 per cent.

On its website, the Fiji Times quoted the head of the attorney-general's office, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, as saying that all directors and at least 90 per cent of shareholders of media organisations in Fiji must be citizens of the nation.

"I wish to make it clear that any media organisation which fails to comply with this requirement shall cease to operate as a media organisation, and shall also be liable for an offence under the decree," the Fiji Times quoted Mr Sayed-Khaiyum as saying.

"At this stage, Fiji Times is the media organisation that needs to comply with the ownership requirements."

News Limited chairman John Hartigan says the the jobs of nearly 200 Fiji Times staff and nearly 1,000 others involved in selling the newspaper are now at risk.

The company's corporate affairs director Greg Baxter says the latest move is an an attack on free speech.

But Fiji's interim attorney-general has rejected the criticism, saying it is in Fiji's interests to have have its media owned by Fijians.

News Limited will now explore any options it may have to remain involved in media in Fiji.

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