Attacks on the Press 2002: Fiji

Fiji’s diverse and energetic media have remained strong despite ongoing political instability in the country. Tensions between indigenous Fijians and the ethnic Indian population dominate political and social life and are often played out in the media, which include several English- and Hindi-language newspapers, the partially privatized Fiji TV, and two major radio broadcasters that operate English-, Fijian-, and Hindi-language channels.

Two years after a failed coup by businessman George Speight, who claimed to be fighting for the rights of indigenous Fijians, the battle for power has moved from the streets to the courtroom. In February, Speight was sentenced to life in prison for treason, and legal proceedings against other coup participants dragged on throughout the year. Meanwhile, the opposition Indo-Fijian Labour Party, which was ousted during the 2000 uprising, directly challenged the legitimacy of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s government. The party brought a court case against Qarase, an ethnic Fijian, claiming he had failed to abide by constitutional requirements to form a multiethnic coalition government after narrowly winning general elections in August 2001. The High Court ruled in favor of the Indo-Fijian Labour Party, and the case is slated to go before the Supreme Court in 2003.

Members of the local media told CPJ that they were able to report on these sensitive court proceedings without significant interference, and that violent attacks and harassment against journalists had declined under the Qarase administration. Nevertheless, some officials launched verbal attacks on the media for exposing social or political problems. Qarase dedicated three pages of an official speech to criticizing Fiji TV, calling the station “eager beavers famous for its spin and bias.” In August, a senator who is also a Methodist minister, responded to media reports of financial irregularities in the church by calling journalists “agents of some powerful foreign agencies, agents of evil planning against Christianity.” A week later, on the Senate floor, another legislator blamed journalists for the breakdown of Fijian society. “They are indeed Satan’s agents and forces,” he said. “They are mad crazy loonies and crazy people.”

Ofa Swann, a member of the opposition New Labour Party, called on her colleagues in Parliament to stop using their positions to lambaste the country’s journalists. She also advocated raising journalists’ salaries, an issue of major concern for those in the media industry. “The media can be both convenient and annoying,” she said. “However, they are there for a reason, and they are not just there for politicians.”