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ASTW decides not to hold annual general meeting in Fiji

IFJ welcomes Australian travel writers' change of plans

(IFJ/IFEX) - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes a decision by the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW) not to accept an offer to hold its annual general meeting in Fiji next year.

The IFJ and its affiliate, Australia's Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, urged the society in September to rethink a proposal to conduct the meeting in Fiji in view of the Fiji military regime's strict censorship and restrictions on people's access to information.

The IFJ and the Alliance alerted the society to the sharp deterioration in Fiji's press freedom environment in the preceding 18 months, especially since the regime imposed emergency regulations in April 2009 and ordered journalists and media outlets to submit "sensitive" news reports to officials. Full-time censors remain in newsrooms in Fiji.

The ASTW's decision has subsequently drawn criticism from Tourism Fiji, whose regional director, Paresh Pant, wrote to the society and accused it of "hypocrisy".

Pant's letter says, "Why should Fiji, where both its citizens and hundreds of thousands of international visitors enjoy a very safe and peaceful environment, attract so much resentment from elements of the membership of an organisation which clearly states and prides itself in its position as an 'apolitical' organisation."

The letter, also noted concerns about the IFJ's request to the ASTW to reconsider the meeting's location.

"The Alliance and the IFJ understand that the ASTW reached its decision with great difficulty, but appreciates the society's recognition of the concerns expressed by some of its members that Fiji is an unsuitable location in which to conduct a meeting of professional journalists and writers while harsh restrictions on the media remain in place," Alliance Federal Secretary and IFJ Asia-Pacific Steering Committee member Christopher Warren said.

"The ASTW has done the right thing."

Over 2008 and 2009, authorities in Fiji have conducted police raids on media offices, deported publishers and editors, called for media houses to be shut down, and banned some foreign journalists, before imposing all-out censorship in April 2009.

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