Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) April 13, 2009 -- Fijiâs military-led government is once more challenging the constitutional right of freedom of speech for the media. The nationâs biggest newspaper is again under serious threat, for what the military says is its âun-cooperativeâ reporting.
A statement was issued by Fijiâs Military Forcesâ Land Force Commander Pita Driti, stating the Fiji Times was biased in its reporting. It didnât give a proper coverage to the militaryâs grievances, or report any of their positive achievements. âThe Fiji Times should be closed down immediately. This news agency in particular is the most non-cooperative and biased newspaper in the country,â said Driti.
Ever since the military took over the government in a bloodless coup in 2006, the media has been subject to ongoing intimidation. Last month, editor Netani Rikaâs home was fire bombed, by unknown assailants. Three newspaper men have been deported and police repeatedly search media premises.
The government defied a High Court order in May, when it deported the Australian publisher of the Fiji Times. Unceremoniously he was bundled onto a Korean Air flight to Seoul. An Australian born publisher of the Sun was deported in February, for publishing âdestabilizingâ reporting.
Not long after taking over control of the country in 2000, the military government occupied offices of the media, demanding the right to examine all reports, before they were put out for publication. The paper temporarily suspended publication. The Managing Director of the Fiji Times, Tony Yianni, said âIf we do not have the freedom to publish with responsibility, according to the constitution, then we do not publish.â The paper was however permitted to resume publishing without any interference from the army.
Bainimarama took over the government a second time in 2006, because he believed the elected prime minister, Qarase, was putting up proposals that were unfair. Proposals that would have benefited native Fijians, to the detriment of the minority ethnic Indians. The proposals were for beneficial land rights for indigenous Fijians. There was also to be an amnesty for those involved in the 2000 coup, when elite army units and racialist gunmen seized power, led by Fijian George Speight.
Also a native Fijian, Chief Frank Bainimarama intervened in 2000. Speight was found guilty of treason and Laisenia Qarase elected prime minister. Bainimarama again seized power in December 2006, in Fijiâs fourth coup in twenty years of independence. Bainimarama wrested the powers of president from President Ratu Josefa Iboilo, promising he would soon return power to Iboilo and a newly appointed civilian government.
Bainimarama declared he would have an election in 2009. He is zealously determined to destroy the nationâs coup culture. He is the ferocious driving force behind changing the countryâs racial based communal election voting system. He says he will achieve this by April 2009. Bainimarama says it was "Racist policies and corruption of the former Fijian-dominated government which sparked his coup".
Bainimarama now challenges the threat of the British Commonwealth to suspend Fijiâs membership if he does not hold elections this year. He says other countries will have no influence on when the Pacific nation will hold elections. âIf we go to elections now, it is not going to serve any purpose. Itâs probably going to make things worse for the people of Fiji. Thereâs going to be no election.â
Tourist numbers dropped dramatically in the face of the political unrest.
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