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Defamation protections for regime unwelcome, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS, 9 February 2012 - Fiji's journalists are being warned to steer clear of the latest media-related decree and stick to ethical standards to guide their reporting of regime speeches and statements.

The warning comes in the wake of the country's new state proceedings decree, which grants Fiji's regime leader and his ministers exemption from defamation suits over anything they may say in public or private.

Signed off on January 19th by the nation's President, the regime issued a statement this week claiming the decree will strengthen public discussion and consultation in the lead-up to planned elections in 2014.

"Defamation and libel restrictions are a cornerstone of journalism ethics training and the practice applies whether a country has defamation laws or not. A leadership which protects itself but not its people from defamation suits cannot expect that to be welcome news. We urge and support our colleagues in Fiji to apply caution in interpreting this decree, and to resist any confusion with parliamentary privilege which is only applied by democratically elected leaders, only in their official capacity, and only from the Parliament floor," says PFF chair Titi Gabi from Papua New Guinea.

"Of all the decrees introduced by the regime this is the most blatant in its elitist protection of the regime leader and his ministers. The claim it will foster and open public debate because the media won't be facing defamation lawsuits over any stories quoting the regime leadership is a farce. Along with the Media Decree, this one should be immediately revoked."

"The best way to open public debate towards meaningful progress is to ensure the right to speak and be heard, to ask questions and to challenge ideas and policies, is to ensure everyone involved is able to openly do so," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller from American Samoa.

"This is yet another regime decree which adds to the current Media and other decrees shaping what is expressed in public and who says it. We stand by those media colleagues in Fiji who will strive in difficult times to uphold ethical standards, especially as they seek balance and right of reply from individuals and groups who may soon bear the brunt of the latest edict", she says.

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