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Media decree must be opposed, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - April 7 2010 - A new media decree proposed for Fiji by the military regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama is nothing more than reinforcement of the sweeping censorship that has been in force in Fiji since "temporary" emergency regulations were imposed in April 2009, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said today.

The IFJ has obtained a copy of the draft Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which was only delivered to media stakeholders in Fiji hours before so-called public consultations on the decree began in Suva today. Stakeholders were reportedly not permitted to allow copies to leave the location of the discussions.

The IFJ is alarmed that the draft decree proposes to invest all power of interpretation over the meaning of fair, balanced and quality journalism to officers and authorities appointed by the Bainimarama regime.

"It is not surprising that Fiji's regime says it will drop its emergency regulations once the media decree is adopted," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"The decree is clearly focused on the regime retaining control and entrenching its highly oppressive restrictions, not only on the media but on members of the public who might wish to express dissenting views."

The draft decree allows for officers authorised by the Media Authority and Tribunal to enter news rooms and media offices to seize any documentation, materials or equipment on the basis of vaguely defined complaints, and even where no formal complaint has been laid.

The same powers are in force under the current emergency regulations, under which the regime has installed censors in news rooms.

Under the decree, media outlets may be fined up to $500,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 260,000) and individual journalists up to $100,000 Fiji dollars, and/or jailed for up to five years if they do not comply with the decree's dictates.

Offences subject to such penalties include failure of print media to run bylines on published articles.

The decree also limits foreign ownership of existing and future private media outlets to 10 per cent.

"This decree strictly limits the ability of Fiji's media to regain its role as a critical watchdog on the accountability of power-holders, and must be substantially rewritten or withdrawn," White said.

The IFJ encourages media stakeholders to jointly speak out against the draft decree, in the interest of defending independent quality journalism in Fiji and the rights of all people in Fiji to express diverse points of view without fear of retribution.
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