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New controls over media industry and journalists deepen loss of free speech, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - Wednesday, June 30, 2010, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - "Legislation of new and sweeping controls over journalists and the media industry by the military regime governing Fiji deepens the loss of free speech and fearless public debate there," says the Pacific Freedom Forum.

"Sadly, the new Media Industry Development decree confirms the regime's targeting of anyone raising a hand for transparency and the rule of law since Fiji's constitution was replaced by a Public Emergency Regulation and military decree in April 2009," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea, of Papua New Guinea.

"Clauses on inclusion of women and children, conduct and media standards, are window dressing. These critical issues are already a central core of journalism training and media council work. Most of the decree reveals it is really about doing away with watchdogs. It will now monitor and control who says what in Fiji's media through a new structure that is going to cost money, even as the decree will take its toll on media sector investment," he says.

The decree legislates registration of all media outlets with a regime-endorsed 'authority' given sweeping powers to protect the national and public interests, from searching premises and seizure of equipment and documents, to court-imposed fines or imprisonment for journalists who fail to divulge sources if required in the 'national' interest to do so. "While there are exceptions, the punitive language of enforcement against media outlets and journalists who refuse to cooperate takes away from any benefits the decree drafters had in mind. If anything, it will grow a pervasive atmosphere of self-censorship where misinformation and rumour will thrive," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

Restrictions on foreign investment in media mean the "Fiji Times", one of the oldest media operators in the world, now has 90 days to turn a business that has existed for some 90 years over to 90 percent local ownership, or close down. Media convergence, the buzzword for industry development, especially with digital and online news media, will also be an issue in Fiji, affecting newer cross-media operators who want to make the most of new media technologies to increase their audience.

"Applying the 10% or less shareholding restriction on foreign ownership would collapse the Fiji investment industry if applied as a national policy and raises questions on the industry development label in the decree," says PFF.

PFF acknowledges the Fiji media and other colleagues who continue to uphold the founding principle of journalism: the universal human right to free speech and expression of ideas. We stand in solidarity with them at this time and continue to be part of the global watch on the continued stifling of democracy and a free media.
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