Fiji: Media Groping in the Dark

Two weeks since the proclamation of the 30-day state of emergency, scores of Fijian media and social movements continue to grope in the dark, performing their duties albeit with extreme caution.
A few weeks ago, the country’s Supreme Court deemed the current administration illegal, prompting Fiji’s President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to dismiss the 1997 Constitution and members of the judiciary and reinstate the 2006 coup instigator and military chief Frank Bainimarama as the Prime Minister. Declared last 10 April 2009, the state of emergency prohibits both local and foreign media from reporting news that put the military and the police in a bad light. Some editors and journalists have already felt the whip of censorship through suspension and deportation.
Amnesty International’s researcher Apolosi Bose claimed a palpable climate of fear throughout the islands these days. “There is a very strong military and police presence on the streets, particularly around strategic locations such as government offices and in the nation's newsrooms. That is a constant and intimidating reminder that the new military regime will not tolerate dissent and will follow through on the warnings it has issued to critics.”

FemlinkPACIFIC, a feminist communications organisation that runs a community radio is among those subjected to censorship by the military. As coordinator Sharon Bhagwan Rolls shared, “[We send] our broadcast log and community news collation to the Ministry of Information prior to each broadcast. We are also being intently monitored when we are on air (a community radio volunteer received a phone call when she was on air and was told we were being monitored). I have subsequently had to clarify with the Ministry that they channel all communication to me rather than cause extra anxiety to our young women volunteers who, I have to say, are coping marvelously.”

She added, “Even if we are communicating within an eight - 10 kilometre radius, it is an important space that we will work hard to retain. We just hope the rural broadcasts can continue too...Ultimately though, with information and communication channels being tightly controlled rural women will be (are being) further marginalised and isolated.”

FemlinkPACIFIC has also been advocating the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UN SCR) 1325 which mandates the meaningful participation of women in peace-building processes.

Various national governments and international organisations have criticised Iloilo’s latest move in an apparent series of media repression in Fiji. The World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has urged churches and leaders to articulate their concerns on Fijian’s struggle to “regain their right to communicate.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also asserted, “The introduction of blanket censorship during the emergency calls the government’s commitment to restoring democracy into serious doubt.” Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders observed, “The military government is heading dangerously towards a Burmese-style system in which the media are permanently subject to prior censorship.”

Iloilo has remained the Head of State since the December 2006 military coup led by Bainimarama. The “new” administration which now continues to govern through Presidential Decree has stated that they plan to remain in power until 2012.

With these latest political developments and pronouncements, the Fiji dollar has plummeted by 20 per cent, most likely to cause grave impact on women who are already struggling to cope with a very depressed economy. Bhagwan Rolls reiterates that what is needed now is critical mediation and dialogue in the true “pacific way” by the Pacific Forum Leaders and the UN and Commonwealth Secretariat.

“There really is no self-correction mechanism. What is needed is not just platitudes but real action to support civil society and women to engage in providing alternatives to what has been decreed towards a return to parliamentary democracy,” she said.

23 April 2009

By Nina Somera

Source: ISIS International