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Spin and silence reign as Fiji clampdown on free speech continues, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - Wednesday 6 October 2010, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - Regional media freedom watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) is concerned over the increasing confusion spread by Fiji's regime over the departure from "Fiji Times" of its long-serving editor Netani Rika.

Comments by the regime's spokesperson Sharon Smith-Johns over the departure of Rika are "appalling in their clear revelation of a pro-regime agenda and heavy bias in this matter," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea.

"Claiming that a Pacific journalist at the pinnacle of his career, forced to leave his job because of extraordinary pressure is 'a good move' simply because he did not toe a pro-regime agenda, is dangerously misleading," says Laumaea. "The forced sale of the 'Fiji Times' and the stance taken by the new management show there is no longer an independent news media outlet in Fiji. We can appreciate that people need to stay in jobs at a difficult time, but to claim that Netani Rika's departure was a good thing, and that the 'Times' was not 'pro-Fiji', creates confusion and misinformation."

"There is little doubt that Rika and the 'Fiji Times' news team have worked in difficult times to be nothing less than the best journalists possible for their Fiji audiences - reporting without fear or favour and under the cloud of repressive military tactics clearly aimed at shutting them down."

"In any nation, a leadership that goes all out to define anything or anyone that does not step in with its views as being 'anti-nationalist' is using confusion and fear to peddle its public image, and that's not a public image that any person in a position of power should be paid taxpayer dollars to push without being questioned," he says.

Laumaea says the sudden and unexplained "absence" of leading "Fiji Times" journalist Sophie Foster from the news team this week will also put new pressure on the new Editor as team leader to walk the balance between Fiji politics and media ethics.

In other Fiji news headlines this week, PFF co-chair Monica Miller has also flagged concern and dismay over the unlawful assembly charges facing former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhury. "The connection between the media controls and regime attempts to curb free speech are already well established with Fiji's regime leader on the record justifying his silencing of the churches and chiefs in Fiji as part of his leadership strategy. Silencing voices by restricting freedom of assembly is just taking control over free thinking and debate to the next level. In that regard, we are dismayed to see the charges laid and its implications for anyone wanting to exercise their human right to speak freely and share opinions with each other."

"We can only repeat our call on Fiji's regime to set up its own media and publishing outlets if it is unhappy with the job done by independent news media. Allowing people their human right to freely hold and share their own opinions is a cornerstone of credible leadership and governance," she says.

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