Fiji: Media refuse to bow to military censorship

New York, December 7, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today congratulated the media in Fiji for successfully resisting censorship attempts by the leaders of Tuesday’s military coup.

Executives from the daily Fiji Times newspaper, Fiji TV and two radio stations, Radio Fiji and FM 96, refused to comply with orders to stop critical reporting on the island’s precarious political situation. They also successfully demanded that soldiers stationed in newsrooms and outside media offices be removed. The media executives, along with the independent Fiji Media Council, rejected the new government’s demands at a meeting Wednesday with acting military commander, Capt. Esala Teleni, journalists told CPJ.

“We salute the Fijian media for their courage in standing up to demands for self-censorship,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The media must be allowed to report freely in this critical time for Fiji.”

Soldiers were deployed to the offices of the Fiji Times and Fiji TV soon after the bloodless coup. But rather than operate with soldiers in their newsrooms or on their premises Fiji Times and Fiji TV shut down their news operations immediately. Fiji Times and FM 96 are privately owned. The government owns a minority share of Fiji TV and the government’s Fiji Island Broadcasting Corporation owns Radio Fiji.

“We will not allow the military or any outside source to control or alter our editorial content. Censorship is not in our books,” Fiji Times editor Samisoni Kakaivalu told CPJ
The Fiji Daily Post, closely allied to ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, closed for several days after receiving threats, but reappeared on the streets today, according to sources in Fiji. The military continued to bar Post staff from attending its press conferences, the newspaper reported.

At a press conference today, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who leads the military regime, pledged to uphold media freedom. “Those in power must honor their promise to let journalists and their organizations operate freely and fully,” Simon added.

Capt. Teleni described soldiers’ efforts to stop reporting critical of the military takeover as a misunderstanding, according to the Fiji Times.

“We did not totally gag the media but we were only trying to stop people from taking advantage of the situation and using the media to incite people to disturb the peace that currently prevails,” Bainimarama said, according to the Times.

Military leaders said that reporting that incites violence was still prohibited, a representative from the Fiji Media Council told CPJ. CPJ pointed out that internationally accepted definitions of incitement require both intent to cause violence and a direct and immediate connection between speech and the violence itself.

“Critical speech in itself is not incitement to violence,” Simon noted.