Thursday, October 7, 2010

[pima.nius] Media Release: Fiji - Editor's Departure Highlights Concerns At Silencing Of Critics In Fiji

11:43 AM |

Media Release: Fiji                                                                                               

October 7, 2010

Editor's Departure Highlights Concerns At Silencing Of Critics In Fiji


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) in voicing concerns for the future of a critical and independent media in Fiji following this week's sudden resignation of Netani Rika as editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times.


The departure of Rika from the helm of the paper was greeted warmly by the spokeswoman for Fiji's military regime led by Frank Bainimarama, which has imposed increasingly draconian controls on independent media and freedom of expression over the past two years.


Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns welcomed Rika's departure, noting he had refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime installed in a military coup in 2006.


"The regime-imposed pressures on the Fiji Times risk silencing anyone who dares to stand up to defend independent media for the people of Fiji," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.


Rika, who is widely known for his courageous defence of a free and critical media in Fiji and has suffered threats and attacks in the past, was reported by the Fiji Times to have stepped down for "the good of the company".


In September, News Ltd sold the paper to Fiji company Motibhai Group under the compulsion of the draconian Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which was made law in June and demands all local media must be 90 per cent Fiji-owned.


The law, which was condemned internationally, clearly targeted the Fiji Times as the only local remaining media outlet in Fiji that sought to maintain critical independence despite the sweeping censorship imposed under "temporary" emergency regulations in April 2009.


Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead said on October 5 that Rika had quit because of perceptions he was anti-government. Rika was replaced by Fred Wesley the previous day.


Adding to the concerns about the pressures on the Fiji Times and its direction, deputy editor Sophie Foster was also absent from the newsroom this week. Like Rika, Foster has shown courage in seeking to defend editorial independence in a climate of repression.


PFF noted in a statement that the unexplained "absence" of Foster would add to pressure on the paper's editorial team in walking the balance between Fiji's politics and editorial integrity.


"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," PFF chair Susuve Laumaea said in a statement.


The turmoil at the Fiji Times comes amid broader efforts to restrict free speech and free association, with former prime minister and General Secretary of the National Farmers' Union Mahendra Chaudhry charged with unlawful assembly on October 1.


Chaudhry was arrested with five others under the 2009 Public Emergency Regulations while meeting farmers. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.


PFF co-chair Monica Miller noted, "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."


For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919


The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries


Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific





Lisa Williams-Lahari
Media Freelancer
Regional Coordinator, IFJ Pacific Media for Democracy and Human Rights Project
Ph Mob: (64) 0210642704
Skype: lisalahari

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."-- Martin Luther King Jr. 

pacific islands media association
aotearoa, new zealand
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