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Concern over Fiji TV dismissal, regional coordinator resignation

Regional media rights monitoring network the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF, has noted with concern circumstances around the dismissal of broadcast news veteran Anish Chand from Fiji TV, and the confirmed resignation of Suva-based coordinator Ricardo Morris.

Fiji TV did not issue a statement linked to Chand's dumping around World Press Freedom Day, but it's understood the station management have resisted pressure for his immediate removal. He is working through the notice period on his termination, which came in the wake of a staff production planning meeting for Fiji TV's proposed election coverage. During that session, Chand voiced concern about the need for the elections program to have views from a broad cross section of society and not just pro-regime supporters.

One of the Fiji TV people present made this known to the interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who reportedly called on the board and CEO for Chand's dismissal.

"It speaks so powerfully of the state of media freedom in Fiji when a journalist doing the simple task of ensuring balance and a voice for all, was 'dobbed in' for being a professional -- by another colleague," says PFF Chair Titi Gabi from Papua New Guinea.

"Journalists who make a point of calling for balanced coverage and inclusion of all viewpoints as a critical part of reporting elections are to be welcomed, not silenced, and elections observers and donors should note this frightening evidence of a gagged media," says Gabi.

"We stand in solidarity with colleagues who are losing the means of supporting their families, simply for doing their jobs-- and we acknowledge the difficulty of being an independent media worker in Fiji at this time."

The removal of Chand from Fiji TV comes after his sidelining in recent years into program productions from newsroom work along with veteran journalist Merana Kitione, following previous regime pressures over their reporting. Kitione has since moved on from the organisation.

"We urge the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) body to provide training on neutrality and media independence to key officials in government and boards deciding who can be a broadcaster or media operator in Fiji. We also ask that MIDA investigate and publish findings on forced removals of journalists from Fiji TV in the last 12 months to uphold their own claims around media independence and freedom being protected during the election period," says co-Chair Monica Miller.

"At this time, we remain concerned that a campaign of words is mounting in Fiji, pitching a rosy situation which is far from truthful at a time when truth and balance for airtime should remain above interference from those whose actions are throwing their own claims into doubt," she says.

Both Gabi and Miller also expressed strong disappointment over the pressures behind the resignation this month of Fiji publisher and investigative journalist Ricardo Morris, who has now vacated the role of Regional Coordinator of the Pacific Freedom Forum. Morris accepted the position of leading the PFF in September 2013, replacing former Coordinator Jason Brown.

"We honour Ricardo's contribution and commitment, but like him, have to respect the realities of living and working as a journalist in Fiji at this time."

The PFF regional coordination now falls on the Co-chairs with an interim volunteer expected to be announced soon.

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