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Police prohibit broadcast of television programme, seize master tape

(PINA/IFEX) - A regular Fiji Television programme was pulled off the air on the evening of 22 June 2008, on allegations that it contained "inflammatory" comments, reports the "Fiji Sun".

The Sunday night national television programme "Close-up", hosted by Anish Chand and pre-recorded the day before, was to feature lawyer Rajendra Chaudhry. Police visited the television station on 22 June with a warrant to seize the recording of the programme.

Fiji Police spokesperson Ema Mua said the police had a search warrant to seize the video. "We have the tape in our possession and our people are transcribing the footage," she said.

Police claimed they were given "credible information from a credible person" within the television company that Chaudhry and Chand made some statements in the show that had inflammatory or provocative content. "We have started investigations and if the allegations are proven to be true then charges will be laid," said Mua.

The acting chief executive officer for Fiji Television Limited, Tarun Patel, said the station was issued a search warrant on 22 June that required them to surrender the video footage of the programme. "The police also issued a memorandum to Fiji TV advising us to cease screening (that edition of) 'Close Up'. Fiji TV is extremely concerned that the censorship of this programme by the police is unwarranted," he said.

Mua would not disclose the nature or target of the allegedly inflammatory comments, but it is believed that a senior government official lodged a complaint against Chaudhry to the police. Chaudhry, son of interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, had recently criticised certain senior government and military officials, going so far as to question the merit of their appointment.

PINA categorically condemns the action of the Fiji Police in confiscating the master copy of Fiji Television's highly rated current affairs programme, "Close Up", before the episode was aired.

PINA strongly condemns this interference by police and again pleads with the interim government to refrain from censoring media; instead, the government should allow media to carry out its duty as stipulated in the Fiji Constitution.

"This is an attempt to interfere with Fiji Television's daily programme and is unwarranted," said PINA Manager, Matai Akauola. "As a body representing the interests of media practitioners in the region, we are not happy with this meddling by the Fiji Police."

PINA is concerned by this additional indicator in a disturbing trend to control the broadcast media. "This is counterproductive to the promise of free media made by the interim government," added Akauola.

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