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Fiji's media authority extends restrictions on independent journalists

The Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF), a regional media monitoring group, is alarmed at the extension by Fiji's media authority of restrictions on foreign media trainers, independent journalists and communications workers as a retrograde step in what at first appeared to be a positive move to engage the country's media workers and owners.

The new chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), academic Ashwin Raj, announced on 8 October the authority was looking at extending registration requirements to foreign media trainers and organisations that conducted media training in Fiji on issues including media freedom, democracy, human rights and elections.

At his first appearance before Fijian journalists, Raj called for more open dialogue among Fiji's media on the decree under which they work, and was keen to help the media promote a “culture of deep democracy”, including a rejection of self-censorship. That encouraging statement was overshadowed by comments in which he signalled a wider interpretation of the authority's powers to include foreign media trainers, organisations that produce their own media and freelance journalists working in Fiji.

“We are always ready to engage with the Fijian media authority and welcome the call for honest dialogue, but the requirement to register for a whole new section of media workers could discourage the very thing Fiji's media needs at the moment,” PFF Chair Titi Gabi of PNG said.

“The media in Fiji need all the training and moral support they can get as the country prepares for its first general election in eight years in September 2014 under a new Constitution,” Gabi said.

MIDA's Raj said it was the appropriate and courteous thing to do for any person or organisations wanting to train or work with the local media to first seek approval from MIDA.

PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa said: “There is no need for another layer of scrutiny in what is already a tightly regulated media environment. “While the requirement to register may seem logical for Fiji's media authority, any extra step in this direction is one more limitation on freedom of expression in a country that is in democratic transition and needs as much openness as possible.

“The PFF calls on the Media Industry Development Authority to continue its advocacy and education efforts with Fiji's media but pull back from any further action that would undermine the positive move forward,” Miller said.

Miller said the PFF is prepared to work with MIDA on developing a robust, ethical and free media in Fiji, as the country was an important regional hub.

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