FIJI: Military threats force temporary closure of two Fiji daily newspapers

Military representatives ordered paper not to publish 'propaganda' against new leadership after coup

Pacific Media Watch
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

By Shailendra Singh

Suva --- Fiji's leading daily newspaper and sole television station last night suspended operations after attempts by the military to censor their news.

Military representatives came to The Fiji Times Suva office at 7.30pm and ordered the paper not to publish any "propaganda" against the new political leadership.

But the newspaper's website today announced that it had been allowed to resume publication without any interference from soldiers. A special afternoon edition was published and normal daily publication will resume tomorrow.

This followed the closure of the Fiji Daily Post on Monday.

Fiji TV was paid a similar visit by the military last night and also ordered not air images or statements issued by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase or members of his cabinet.

Earlier, military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama had declared that he had deposed the Qarase government and assumed executive powers. He declared a state of emergency today.

Several soldiers also stationed themselves at the government-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation headquarters last night.

The FBCL news director, Matai Akoula, said the soldiers told them they were there for their protection.

He said they had received no directives from the soldiers about what they should broadcast.

But one soldier was in the newsroom, watching the reporters. And the soldiers had requested they be present at their morning meetings when stories are discussed and assigned.

The Fiji Times was the second of Fiji's three newspapers to suspend operations.

On Monday the Daily Post, in which government holds shares, closed shop after complaining of receiving threatening phone calls from the military.

The third newspaper, the Fiji Sun, which has also criticised the military, had received no visits last night.

Fiji Times managing director Tony Yianni and editor Samisoni Kakaivalu said they were told that could not publish anything from the "deposed" Qarase government.

Yianni and Kakaivalu argued that a free press meant any and all opinions should be published in a balanced way.

The Army said it would not tolerate the newspaper publishing any views that opposed those of the army.

Officers said the Army would instead close the newspaper. Yianni then ordered the newspaper closed himself.

Fiji TV's news director Netani Rika said soldiers arrived at the station at 7.30pm.

They said they were there for their protection. Later, they said they did not want any statements from the Qarase administration to be put on air.

Rika said he informed the officers that his staff could not work under those conditions.

"We will come back when we are independent and uncensored," Rika said.

Yianni said the military's demands breached the Constitution of Fiji, which specifically protects freedom of speech.

He said the demands also breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We were ordered to breach the Constitution and not publish any dissenting views that may be sent to us by free citizens, as well as the views of legally elected members of the Qarase government.

"If we do not have the freedom to publish with responsibility, then we do not publish."

Shailendra Singh is the head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific.