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)
Press freedom in Fiji recovered somewhat from a major reversal suffered in 2006 as a result of a coup by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. Following a significant tightening of the media environment at the end of 2006 and the early part of 2007, the latter part of the year was marked by a reduction of government pressure and an improved legal environment. In December 2006, the country endured its fourth coup in almost two decades when the democratically elected government of Laisenia Qarase’s United Fiji Party (SDL) was ousted. Immediately following the takeover, the 1999 constitution appeared to have been suspended, removing legal protections for journalists such as provisions in the bill of rights guaranteeing free speech. However, during 2007, the postcoup regime asserted that the constitution had not been suspended, thereby restoring some legal rights. Though no freedom of information legislation exists, the Fijian High Court issued a landmark ruling in October 2007 in which it rejected a request seeking to bar Fiji TV from broadcasting the findings of an audit of the country’s largest financial institution, the Fiji National Provident Fund; the court justified the decision by declaring the audit results to be in the public interest. Nevertheless, in August, the Fiji Human Rights Commission, widely regarded as maintaining a progovernment stance, commissioned a report entitled Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji. The report, whose final version had not been publicly released at year’s end, was considered by news media and the self-regulatory Fiji Media Council to be an attempt to restrict media freedom.
Despite increased security in the legal sphere, there were several incidents of soldiers harassing and threatening journalists and activists who were regarded as overly critical of the government, reportedly contributing to self-censorship. In one incident, Richard Naid, a prominent media lawyer and former journalist who advises Fiji’s largest daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, was seized by the military and intimidated. Fiji TV’s news director, Netani Rika, was also brought in for questioning and reportedly abused by the military in 2007. In June, foreign journalist Michael Field, a correspondent for Fairfax Media in Auckland, was reportedly detained and then expelled after seeking to cover the expulsion of New Zealand’s high commissioner, apparently for publicly criticizing the coup. The harassment, particularly intense in the months immediately after the coup, eased later in the year as the interim administration became more secure in its political and legal control. Nevertheless, to protect their correspondents, many newspapers ceased providing bylines.
In spite of the coup, the economic climate for independently owned media remained stable. 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 owns 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 2007, nearly 9 percent of the population was able to access the internet. Though there were no restrictions on access to this medium, the authorities attempted to shut down several prodemocracy blogs that emerged in response to the coup. According to the U.S. State Department, the military closely monitored communications on the sites, and in at least one instance, a businessman accused of contributing to a blog was detained at an army camp and abused. Several other individuals involved with the blogs were also reportedly threatened or intimidated.