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REGIONS:

New Fiji Islands leader pledges no legislation against media, talks of need for "tuition"



(PINA/IFEX) - The new prime minister of the Fiji Islands, Mahendra Chaudhry,
pledged on 21 May 1999 to not legislate against the media or impose media
licensing, "The Fiji Times" reported. But Chaudhry said media organisations,
starting from management, need "a lot of tuition," the newspaper reported.
"I think the media should be fair," it quoted him as saying. "We won't bring
in any legislation, no licensing, but I hope there will be training in media
organisations." Chaudhry said the responsibility of the news media during
elections should be to the people and not to company shareholders.





**Updates IFEX alert of 7 May 1999**

Chaudhry also said the new government would look at how best to dispose of
the forty-four percent of government shares in Fiji's second daily
newspaper, the "Daily Post". The previous indigenous-Fijian dominated
government controversially bought these shares and became the main
shareholder in the "Daily Post" three months before the general election.
Chaudhry said it was not the job of a government to run a press.

Chaudhry is the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister, from
descendants of indentured sugar plantation workers brought from India during
the British colonial era. He complained during the general election campaign
that some media organisations were biased against his Fiji Labour Party. He
alleged a "media plot" to prevent Labour from winning. This charge was
vigorously rejected by the media, especially "The Fiji Times", which is the
biggest daily newspaper and also publishes Fijian and Hindi language
weeklies. It pointed out that politicians from all political sides were
alleging media bias against them and in favour of their opponents.

"The Fiji Times", a previous winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of
Information award for its defence of the public's right to know, said:
"Despite the bluster of the politicians, Fiji has been reasonably well
served by the media in this election. The two dailies have delivered
extensive and balanced coverage as well as comment. Radio has played a
particularly important role in delivering the campaign messages to remote
areas of the nation while television has tried hard but has been hampered by
the reluctance of some of the major players to appear on camera."

Background Information


With strong ethnic Indian support, Labour and its mainly indigenous Fijian
coalition partners went on to score a landslide win in the elections. These
were the first elections under a new constitution designed to produce a
multiracial parliament and cabinet. Fiji had returned to elected government
in 1992 under a constitution imposed after the 1987 coups by soldiers from
the indigenous Fijian dominated army. The coups followed unrest over the
election of the first government to be dominated by members from the Indian
population.







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