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PFF warns global media conference to "watch out for government interference"

(PFF/IFEX) - Regional media freedom organization, the Pacific Freedom Forum, has warned the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) to keep its agenda free from interference by Fiji's military regime in the lead-up to its July 2009 conference.

The 35th AIBD conference together with its associated meetings will take place at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, Denarau Island from July 19-26. The meeting, planned well before the current military regime came into power, will bring global broadcasters to the Pacific for workshops and general sessions on a range of development issues.

"The military regime has already made contradictory statements about how the authorities are going to allow journalists to report on the AIBD conference. What we want to know is how Fijian journalists attending AIBD are going to be censored while their overseas colleagues are not. Are spies from the Fiji regime going to be snooping around AIBD gathering evidence against Fijian broadcasters who don't report 'correctly'?" says PFF chair, Susuve Laumaea.

"It is clear the Fiji authorities are planning for the AIBD conference to be a significant propaganda exercise, attempting to convince attendees, and overseas journalists, that the Fiji media has learned its lesson and is now reporting 'responsibly'."

"The Pacific Freedom Forum calls on the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development to send a clear and strong hands-off message to the military regime on their meeting. It is not too late to re-schedule this important gathering to a more media friendly country," Mr Laumaea said.

"Now Fiji's under a military dictatorship, with censors in all newsrooms, and draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly have replaced the rule of law. A global media gathering cannot be expected to turn a blind eye to the tragic situation of journalists in the host nation. AIBD's very credibility is at stake here," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller.

"Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni was appointed to the AIBD meeting organizing committee, and he's still there, even though he's now Fiji's chief censor," Miller said.

"At the very least, one would have expected his attendance at the AIBD's Asia media summit in Macau last month to help him step back from compromising the work of the AIBD and what their Nadi meeting aims to achieve. This - and getting the army out of newsrooms, would go a long way to helping break down the reality that the so-called emergency regulations are a bullying tactic aimed at keeping the people of Fiji imprisoned in half-truths, pro-regime propaganda, and fear."

The main objectives of AIBD are:
-to promote media professionalism in electronic media in Asia and the Pacific region
-to provide an Asia-Pacific regional platform for dialogue in electronic media policies and development
-to encourage member countries to utilize the AIBD for consultancy in media matters

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