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Pacnews journalist detained for 12 hours; military orders closure of ABC relay transmitters

(IFJ/IFEX) - April 17, 2009 - IFJ Urges Fiji Regime to Avoid International Isolation

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) appeals to Fiji's military regime to reverse its restrictions on the media and to recognise that its actions in detaining and deporting journalists, shutting down broadcasting transmissions and censoring and intimidating journalists puts the Pacific island nation at risk of international isolation that will greatly harm the people of Fiji.

"Fiji's military leaders have a warped view of the role of a healthy media if they believe that they are entitled to media reporting that puts them in a good light regardless of their actions," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"There is no right to propaganda. Genuine rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are about freedoms - including the right to freedom of expression and the right to information."

This morning, Suva police released journalist Pita Ligaiula, who was detained for 12 hours overnight after two police officers and a Ministry of Information officer escorted him from his Suva office yesterday.

Ligaiula, a journalist with Pacnews, the Suva-based regional news agency owned by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), was detained reportedly because the regime objected to his articles for The Associated Press (AP).

Other Fiji journalists who work for foreign media, including Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Island Business, as well as for a private television station in Fiji, were also summoned by the ministry and police. The journalists were reportedly told the military requires them to practise "journalism of hope."

The regime said approved foreign journalists could enter the country after "specifically stating the reason and the dates of their visit." Approval would be "based on how they have reported about Fiji in the past, if they have, or on the undertaking that they will report accurately and responsibly," military spokesman Neumi Leweni said.

Yesterday, Fiji's military ordered the closure of two relay transmitters used by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The closure followed the deportation on April 15 of ABC correspondent Sean Dorney, as well as reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith, of New Zealand's TV3.

The regime's leader Frank Bainimarama, who was re-installed as prime minister on the weekend and led the country's 2006 coup, told Radio New Zealand yesterday that freedom of speech was hurting Fiji. The restrictions were imposed because media debate was impeding reform in the country, he said.

"Despite the difficult conditions, journalists are doing their best to report on the situation in Fiji. They are not the ones who are responsible for misinformation, as claimed by Frank Bainimarama. Harmful misinformation and rumour emerge when people are prevented from freely accessing information and different points of view," White said.

The IFJ, along with international press freedom organisations and regional bodies, again urges Bainimarama and his military colleagues to reverse their position immediately and recognise that the real danger for Fiji lies in the long-run consequences of media censorship and the denial to ordinary people of their right to information and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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