Ongoing political turbulence continued to plague Fiji’s media. Tensions between indigenous Fijians and those of Indian descent are often played out in the media, which is divided along ethnic and linguistic lines.
The year began with Court of Appeal hearings to determine the legality of prime minister Laisenia Qarase’s interim government, which was installed with military backing in July 2000 after a failed coup by businessman George Speight tipped Fiji into chaos. The court was also charged with deciding whether Fiji’s 1997 constitution, which the military suspended last year, remained in force.
During the legal proceedings, some journalists warned that media outlets were practicing self-censorship or giving in to official requests to tone down their political coverage. An editorial in the privately owned daily Fiji Sun complained of a “more sinister type of media control,” in which the interim government “may have gained tacit agreement from private broadcasters who believed they were helping the nation by avoiding some content, perhaps deemed ‘inflammatory.'”
In February, police stopped the filming of a political affairs television program on partially government-owned Fiji TV by forcibly preventing participants from entering the venue and threatening to arrest them if the program proceeded. The show, which was to discuss Fiji’s future, was scheduled to coincide with the Court of Appeal proceedings. Police told producers that they needed a license because the filming was considered a public gathering, even though the participants were all issued private invitations. Many guests backed out after the incident, and Fiji TV was forced to reschedule the program until after the court hearings.
In March, the court upheld the constitution and declared the interim government illegal. Elections were called for August.
During the campaign, local journalists, government information officials, minority groups, and the Fiji Media Council held a conference on the role of the press in the election process. The five-day workshop, “Steering Fiji Back to Democracy: A Challenge for the Journalists Working in Fiji,” focused on teaching journalists how to cover post-conflict and reconciliation issues. The government also issued a statement calling on the media to “use its code of checks and balances and ensure that published or broadcast material is indeed fair and balanced.”
Qarase, an indigenous Fijian, won the elections but did nothing to ease racial tensions beyond urging the media to exercise restraint when reporting on racial issues. He refused to form a multiethnic coalition government with the Indo-Fijian Labour Party, the country’s second largest party, even though his party had failed to win enough seats to govern alone–virtually guaranteeing continued political instability.
Filming of “Leader’s Forum,” a political affairs program on Fiji Television, was postponed after police forcibly prevented participants from entering the venue and threatened to arrest them if the program proceeded.
The program was scheduled to coincide with court hearings into the legality of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s interim government, which was installed with military backing in July 2000 after a failed coup by businessman George Speight.
Police told producers at Fiji Television that they needed a license to film the program because the filming was considered a public gathering, even though the participants had all been issued private invitations. Many participants backed out after the police threat, and Fiji TV was forced to reschedule the program until after the court proceedings had concluded.