The deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Fiji

Three months after the Media Industry Development Decree was issued by Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the objects of the Decree are beginning to feel its effect. Australian-owned News Limited are having to sell their newspaper, Fiji Times, targeted by a clause in the Decree which requires all media outlet directors and 90 percent of shareholders to be citizens and permanent residents of Fiji. The Decree also prohibits news broadcasts ‘against the national interest or public order.’

The Decree follows the deportation in 2008 of two staff of the Times, with government officials citing work permit problems. In 2009 a court ruled that Bainimarama’s 2006 coup was illegal, leading him to step down in an apparent prelude to restoring democracy. However, he returned, re-appointed as Prime Minister until 2014, and suspended the Constitution. The Public Emergency Regulations 2009 was decreed on 10 April 2009 and remains in effect.

First the prolonged state of ‘emergency’ enabled government restrictions on media freedom, such as sending ‘information officers’ into newsrooms to prevent ‘negative’ stories being reported. Now with the issuing of the Media Industry Development Decree, the rules of property ownership have also been enlisted potentially to squeeze out critical commentary. Both can be utilised as indirect attacks on media freedom, making public space an inhospitable landscape where free expression may ultimately be inoperable.

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