Australian Foreign Minister condemns Fiji media decree

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The military-controlled government of Fiji has imposed restrictions on foreign media ownership and jail terms for journalists whose work violates the "public interest or order".
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has publically condemned the Fiji Media Decree which went into effect Monday. The decree, the full title of which is "The Media Industry Development Decree 2010", implements restrictions on foreign media ownership and jail terms for journalists whose work violates the "public interest or order". The decree also introduces a new media code and complaints authority.

Various news, media and press coroporations, including News Limited have been handed a sanction by the military controlled government, under Frank Bainimarama to sell or close 90% of their Fijian branches. The mandate also extends to imprisoning journalist who are deemed against "public order".

“For the first time we have a legislation that is all encompassing (the media journalists and consumers), it’s actually empowering the people of Fiji in ensuring that their views are heard,” said Sharron Smith-Johns.

Smith said these actions are another example of the Pacific nation's military rulers disregarding the civil rights of its people, and would likely result in financial and economic backlash.

"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.

Four years after ousting the former democratically elected Qarase government, the sanction entitled 'The Media Industry Development Decree 2010' follows strings of intimidation of reporters by soldiers, deportation of foreign new media executives and censorship of "negative" stories about the current military administration. Attorney-General of Fiji Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum claims that foreign media outlets are "purveyors of negativity", an argument that the entire administration defends.

Chairman of News Limited, John Hartigan has criticised former Prime Ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd of Australia, for not pressuring the military leaders of Fiji into holding elections. Fiji is currently suspended from the Commonwealth for the same reasons.