Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Fiji’s press freedom rating dropped from Free to Partly Free in 2006 owing to a government crackdown on the media following the military coup, during which time the bill of rights protecting press freedom was suspended.
Press freedom in the Fiji Islands suffered a major reversal in 2006. The country endured its fourth coup in almost two decades when military chief Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama formalized his “creeping putsch” on December 5, 2006, and ousted the democratically elected government of Laisenia Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party. While Bainimarama promoted an image of a bloodless and benign coup, the military commander had zero tolerance for media criticism.
The legal framework generally gives journalists considerable freedom as guaranteed by the 1997 constitution; however, the judiciary was in disarray and the status of the constitution unclear at the end of 2006. The bill of rights provisions under Section 187 (3) were suspended, including Section 30, which guarantees freedom of speech. Earlier, in August 2006 news media had condemned a draft broadcast licensing bill, saying it was an attempt to control news organizations. The bill provided for a government-appointed six-member Broadcasting Licensing Authority with powers related to programming and content. The authority would be empowered to fine broadcast companies FJ$500,000 (US$310,000) for “breaching” their licensing agreement or to revoke licenses.
Claiming his coup was a “cleanup” campaign against corruption and on behalf of all citizens in the multiracial Pacific country, Bainimarama quickly clamped down on media and other critics of his regime. On the day after the coup, December 6, he declared a state of emergency, and international press freedom organizations protested against this overt form of censorship. The leading national daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, as well as the smaller Fiji Daily Post temporarily closed publishing operations in the face of threats. The editor in chief of the Daily Post, Dr. Robert Wolfgramm, an Australian citizen, a Fijian native, and previously a strong critic of the military, was threatened with deportation when his paper refused to publish material in keeping with the demands of the coup leaders. Separately, after receiving instructions to broadcast only pro-coup material, Fiji 1, the national state-owned broadcaster, chose to temporarily shut down its transmission instead of comply with such orders. Throughout the coup, the news media continued to defy political pressures to censor their material.
In spite of the coup, the economic climate for independently owned media continued to prosper. The state-run Fiji Broadcasting Corporation operates three main radio stations in English, Fijian, and Hindustani; the state also runs three national newspapers. These compete with two private national newspapers, the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun, as well as a privately owned FM broadcaster, Communications Fiji Ltd. The Fijian investment group Yasana Holdings holds a controlling 51 percent stake in Fiji TV, while the government owns 14 percent but plans to sell its stake. According to the U.S. State Department, the government has been known to direct advertising to media outlets in which it has a stake. In 2006, approximately 8 percent of the population was able to access the internet, which was not restricted during the coup.