REGIONS:

Journalists from New Zealand and Australia deported as regime tightens control on news media; local media outlets refuse to report on political stories

(PINA/IFEX) - Overseas journalists covering Fiji's political crisis have been deported as the military-led regime tightens its control on the island's besieged news media.

ABC Television journalist and veteran Pacific commentator Sean Dorney, together with a television crew -- reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith -- from Auckland's TV 3 network, were taken in by the authorities in the capital at around midday on 13 April 2009. All three were called up by Ministry of Information officials and told to report to the Ministry headquarters. When they did, they were told that immigration officers would escort them to the Nadi International Airport for their flights home.

Australian and New Zealand High Commissions consular officers who were allowed to see Dorney, Aston and Smith said the three were fine and have been told that they would be driven to the airport, on the island's west coast.

Earlier, Dorney told Pacnews that when he was summoned to the Information Ministry at around 10:00 a.m. (local time) on 13 April, he was told that the government was unhappy with his reporting on the political crisis. He was also told he would have to be deported. He was then allowed to return to his hotel to pack his belongings and wait for immigration officials.

"At the hotel I received a call from the same ministry official who wanted to know whether I would agree to return home voluntarily, but I told them that I was sent here to cover the event and I would not return voluntarily" said Dorney.

At around 1:30 p.m., just as Dorney sat down for lunch with some local colleagues at the hotel restaurant, he was again called to report to the Information Ministry. When he did, his phones and hired vehicle key were seized and he was told to prepare to travel to Nadi.

An Australian High Commission consular officer later turned up at the ministry to deliver Dorney's luggage to him, including his television equipment.

On the same afternoon, authorities called in "Fiji Sun" publisher Peter Lomas and senior journalist Maika Bolatiki.

It is believed the meeting was to do with the newspaper's front page story today in which Lomas announced that the paper would no longer publish political stories, be they favourable or unfavourable to the new government.

In its 13 April front page story, Lomas had said that, in the current situation, journalists cannot meet the Fiji Media Council's code of ethics requirements.

"When it comes to reporting fairly on politics, journalists were severely restricted by the most recent directive from the government," the "Fiji Sun" reported Lomas as saying.

Also on 13 April, the Rupert Murdoch newspaper the "Fiji Times" removed the blanks from its pages to indicate stories that have been spiked by the government censors.

Newspaper publisher Anne Fussell, editor-in-chief Netani Rika and company lawyer Richard Naidu were summoned before Ministry of Information permanent secretary Major Neumi Leweni to explain the blanks on their pages.

It now appears that, like the "Fiji Sun", the "Fiji Times" has also refused to publish any political stories. The national television station Fiji One has reportedly done the same.

Meanwhile, PINA has called on the new Fiji Government to "leave the media alone to continue to perform its role of information dissemination to the people of Fiji and the region." PINA President Joseph Ealedona, of Papua New Guinea, has said the actions are deplorable and an indication of a desperate regime that has no respect for the rule of law and democracy. "While I have yet to get a full briefing from the PINA secretariat in Fiji, the news reports coming out of Fiji indicate heavy censorship of news in relation to political developments in the country," said Ealedona in a statement.

PINA calls on all rational thinking governments to put a stop to these blatant actions, ignoring the norms of good governance and censoring the media, and to take immediate action to pull Fiji into line. PINA also calls on the interim government to immediately remove its security force presence in newsrooms and to stop censoring news items.

"The free and peace loving people of Fiji are being silenced by the barrel of the gun and by taking control of the news media and banning news on events taking place and against the regime. This shows a serious move on the part of the interim government to take its people back to the dark ages," a PINA statement said.

Latest Tweet:

Gobierno hondureño asigna arbitrariamente publicidad y prohíbe a funcionarios dar entrevistas http://t.co/Cz0hHVvvCZ @clibre #Honduras