Fiji, which has consistently been regarded as having the least free press in the Pacific, has continued to block disparaging voices despite being ranked 55th earlier this year in the World Press Freedom Index, according to the country’s Opposition.
The ranking was by Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that safeguards the right to freedom of information to the public.
“Under Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, who has proved impossible to remove as prime minister ever since a military coup in 2006, journalists who are overly critical of the government are often subjected to intimidation or even imprisonment,” the report stated, adding that laws with penalties of up to seven years in prison, ”are used to foster a climate of fear and self-censorship.”
The ranking sits below Pacific neighbours Papua New Guinea at No.47, Tonga at 46 and Samoa at 21.
The four highest regarded nations for press freedoms are all located in Scandinavia: Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
New Zealand comes in at No.8, Australia at 25, United Kingdom at 33 and the United States at 44.
The worst countries were Eritrea at No.180, then North Korea, Turkmenistan, China, Djibouti and Vietnam.
The annual report on press freedom is based on pluralism that includes the representation of opinions in the media, independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and abuses.
Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry says despite being called out internationally, nothing has changed.
“We can use this guideline to determine whether the Fiji media operates in a free and independent environment. The answer has to be an absolute no.”
“Fiji’s media ranking on a global scale may seem to have improved over the past few years, but opposition political parties are all too aware of the constraints on media freedom applicable here.”
There has allegedly been reports that most media organisations in Fiji do not bother to run statements issued by parties questioning or criticising government policies.
The main opposition believed that “public perception” is that at least two Fijian media organisations carry “pro-government bias” and are tagged as being government propagandists.
“If they do run statements from the opposition, these are usually twisted and distorted to meet a certain agenda,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“The rest, fearing government reprisal, exercise self-censorship and steer clear of any controversy by refraining from running statements from opposition parties.
“Such caution, however, does not deter them from running government criticisms directed against opposition parties.
“To its credit, the Fiji Times is more daring in its reports and coverage, providing a wider range of views and opinions but they have been under extreme pressure from the authorities.”
The Labour Party has its greatest support among Indo-Fijians despite being founded by Indigenous Fijian and former prime minister, Timoci Bavadra.
Twice the party has been elected to government before being overthrown in a coup.
The First Fijian Party government, headed by prime minister Frank Bainimarama, has been approached several times for comment by The Pacific Advocate but has not responded.
Mr Bainimarama’s party was behind the coups but has been re-elected twice in 2014 and 2018.
Mr Chaudhry said political instability in Fiji has impacted on the role of the media.
“At times of coups, the media is the first target of the perpetrators,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“Not surprisingly, rigorous censorship was imposed on the media under the Public Emergency Decree promulgated in April 2009 following the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution by the army-backed Bainimarama regime.
The decree totally banned political statements by opposition parties and required all news items to be scanned by the Information Ministry before publication.”
Direct censorship was replaced but journalists still faced a six-figure fine and a five-year jail term for falling foul of the decree. Media organisations would cop heavier fines of $500,000.
Only intervention from the UN Human Rights Council forced the removal of journalists’ fines but publishers and editors can be out of pocket $25,000 or two-year jail terms for printing or broadcasting “anything that could be seen as jeopardising the national interest or public order or inciting racial antagonism”.
“Many perceived this to be no real progress because even if journalists were free to report, their reports could be censored at the desk by the editor or the publisher who still faced hefty fines,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“So, media organisations resorted to self-censorship. And this is the situation today.”
Nothing in fiji under this dictatorship is fair. The PM himself assaulted a member of parliament and then got the speaker of the house to order the victim to apologise to the PM .
A fair assessment of the media environment in Fiji.
I also believe the same, as I agree that there are people out there who are still being suppressed and are not given enough opportunities to express their views, ideas, opinions…in sort, transparency is still lacking and that should be a concern.
Why is USA rankings so good? Is Julian Assange free?