Freedom of the Press

Fiji

Fiji

Freedom of the Press 2013

2013 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

56

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

12

The constitution, suspended since April 2009, guarantees press freedom and freedom of expression, but the military government led by Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama does not respect these rights in practice. In late December 2012, the head of the constitutional commission, Kenyan constitutional lawyer Yash Ghai, presented a draft constitution to the president. However, the following day police seized and destroyed all additional copies. The fate of the draft was still uncertain at year’s end.

Media outlets and journalists faced instances of legal and official harassment in 2012. In October, the Fiji High Court ruled that the leading daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, was in contempt of court over an article republished from a New Zealand newspaper in November 2011 that questioned judicial independence in Fiji. Chief editor Fred Wesley and former publisher Brian O’Flaherty were found guilty and faced possible imprisonment. The prosecutor accused the newspaper of being “reckless” and demanded a six-month jail sentence for the editor, three months for the publisher, and a FJ$500,000 (US$280,000) good-behavior bond for the daily. The ruling was widely criticized as harsh and politically driven. At year’s end the sentences had not yet been issued. In a similar contempt case in 2009, the Fiji Times had been fined FJ$100,000 (US$56,000).

Fiji does not have a freedom of information law, and access to government information can be difficult. In January 2012, the government ended official censorship and opened wider public debate by lifting the Public Emergency Regulations (PER), which had been imposed in 2009 and allowed authorities to decide what constituted balanced and quality journalism and to directly censor news content. Nevertheless, a continuing pattern of self-censorship was apparent due to the chilling effect of the harsh 2010 Media Industry Development Decree (MIDD). The tough penalties under the decree have deterred most media from criticizing the regime. The decree established the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority, which has the power to enforce the MIDD and investigate possible violations, sidelining the self-regulatory Fiji Media Council. The MIDD also established a separate media tribunal to hear cases referred by the authority, and to impose penalties on journalists whose work is deemed to be against the “public interest or public order.” Violations of these vaguely worded provisions are punishable by a fine of up to FJ$1,000 (US$560) or imprisonment of up to two years for journalists; the penalty for any media company that breaches the decree may be as high as FJ$100,000 (US$56,000). In addition, the MIDD overrides traditional checks and balances by forbidding the judiciary from challenging the decree itself or the institutions it established.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Unit within the Department of Communications is responsible for granting broadcast licenses and regulating Fiji’s telecommunications sector. In June 2012, the government passed the Television Amendment Decree, which requires all television broadcast licenses to comply with the code of ethics established under the MIDD. The same month, the government threatened to discontinue Fiji TV’s license if it broadcast antigovernment programming, after the station aired interviews with former prime ministers Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry.

Despite the end of official media censorship that accompanied the lifting of the PER, the government continued to monitor internet traffic, especially to control criticism on antiregime blogs such as Coupfourpointfive, Fijileaks, and Fiji Today. There was also evidence that the government monitored private e-mail. Cases of physical attacks or harassment aimed at journalists or media outlets are rare, in part because of the substantial roles already played by legal restrictions and self-censorship in limiting controversial coverage.

Fiji’s media landscape consists of both public and private outlets. The private radio network Communications Fiji Limited operates several multilingual stations and competes with the public broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, which launched a television channel in 2012. An independent station, Mai Television, also competes with the long-established private outlet Fiji TV. The internet was accessed by about 34 percent of the population in 2012.

Under the MIDD, foreign owners can hold no more than a 10 percent stake in media outlets. This clause was reportedly designed to make critical sections of the news media more pliant. It led to the sale of the Fiji Times, the country’s oldest and most influential newspaper, founded in 1869 and previously wholly owned by the Australian branch of Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corporation. Since the 2006 coup, the newspaper had been the most critical media opponent of the regime and the strongest voice for a return to democracy. In 2010, Murdoch was forced to sell the Fiji Times to a local trading company, the Motibhai Group. Meanwhile, the rival daily Fiji Sun, which supports the regime, has benefitted from a virtual monopoly on state advertising. Despite overall economic improvement, media outlets continue to rely in large part on government advertising revenue.