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Fiji’s media harangued over article

October 19, 2013

By Michael Field

Fiji coup leader Frank Bainimarama.  David White/Fairfax NZ

Fiji coup leader Frank Bainimarama.
David White/Fairfax NZ

Fiji’s tightly controlled news media is under the gun again with the country’s military-backed regime demanding to know why a story about media freedom was published at all.

A confidential “not for publication” memo leaked to Fairfax Media reveals that yesterday editors received a demand that they “give an explanation before close of business today” on why they published the story.

The story cited the Pacific Freedom Forum as saying new restrictions on the media were a retrograde step.

Coup leader Frank Bainimarama imposed censorship over the media after his 2006 democracy-ending coup.

Censorship was lifted last year but has been replaced by the Media Industry Development Authority (Mida) and a high degree of self-censorship.

Mida chairman Ashwin Raj this month announced a tightening of rules for foreign journalists, warning that all freelancers, correspondents and public relation officers must now be registered.

He also objected to foreign aid donors entering Fiji and training locals.

“I find that deeply problematic. I cannot possibly imagine our journalists being able to do something like that in some other country,” Raj said.

Monica Miller, of American Samoa, the co-chairwoman of Pacific Freedom Forum, said there was no need for another layer of scrutiny in an “already tightly regulated media environment”.

Her statement appeared in Suva media outlets.

This drew an oddly worded warning from Mida director Matai Akauola, who said the forum story had “blatantly breached the code of ethics”.

”Media outlets, especially the editors, must explain the reasons for using the PFF article.

“It does not mean that when you get both sides, you run the story. You have to check whether it’s accurate.”

Mida was also checking other reports. A military decree empowered Mida to monitor compliance with the ethical standards of the print and broadcast media, Akauola said.

Raj also issued a public statement saying Mida will not tolerate groups like the forum.

“This is the type of things that Mida will deal with – journalists masquerading as correspondent for foreign entities and many other things and want to remain a journalist in Fiji.”

The confidential and public statements suggest Fiji is further tightening media controls ahead of promised democracy-restoring elections.

Since 2006 Fiji has banned several foreign reporters, including journalists from Fairfax Media, Television New Zealand and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Marlborough Express.

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