Fiji has been ranked as the worst place in the Pacific region for journalists in the latest assessment by global press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
This assessment has not gone down well with the Fijian Media Association (FMA) and the Fijian government.
FMA said they do not endorse any report that they had not participated in, but agreed with certain statements within the RSF report, particularly on the threat of legislation such as the Media Industry Development Act to criminalise and impose heavy fines on media organisations or editors.
The FMA has the membership of over 300 journalists and all mainstream media outlets in Fiji.
In RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index released this week, Fiji was placed 102 out of 180 countries – receiving an overall score of 56.91 out of 100.
Fiji slid down by 47 places compared to its 2021 rankings when it was placed 55.
Other countries from the region included Aotearoa New Zealand, which was ranked 11th, Australia – 39, Samoa – 45, Tonga – 49, and Papua New Guinea – 62.
The report said journalists critical of the government were regularly intimidated and even imprisoned by the indestructible prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, in power since the military coup of 2006.
FMA general secretary Stanley Simpson said no imprisonment of journalists has happened in the last decade although there have been instances of journalists being questioned over their reports, and cases of media organisations and editors being taken to court.
“However this report is another clear reminder to the Government to review and remove sections in the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) act that imposes harsh penalties on the media,” he said.
“These breaches include content that is deemed against the public interest or order, is against national interest, or creates communal discord, or even if the media does not include a byline for articles exceeding 50 words.
“The fines for any of the above breaches are up to $100,000 for media organizations or in the case of a publisher or editor a fine up to $25,000, or up to two years imprisonment.
“Who defines what is against the public interest or what is against the national interest? While the Fijian media have been doing their best to be bold and free and abiding by their code of ethics – these laws are making many media organisations and editors hesitate about publishing or broadcasting certain views that may go against the Government based on how they may interpret that legislation and come after a media organisation.”
Mr Simpson said the fines were too excessive and designed to be vindictive and punish the media, rather than encourage better reporting standards and be corrective.
He said media organisations in Fiji are almost unanimous in seeking the removal of the harsh fines and penalties, and a review of the act. It is dangerous for media freedom now and also in the future. The MIDA act has been ineffective and has done little to nothing to raise media standards.
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“While the media in Fiji has been doing its work in informing the public and holding Government accountable – the massive fines hanging over their heads is not conducive to a free media environment,” Mr Simpson said.
Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Communication Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said no journalist has been imprisoned.
“You should ask them which journalist in Fiji has been imprisoned. I don’t know who is writing this. They write this thing with so much impunity. They don’t care for the truth, they have a particular narrative they want to tow,” he said.
“Obviously aided and abetted by people in the Opposition. But no journalist has been imprisoned. Even in this last two and half years even during this pandemic, economic and social disruption.”