May 29, 2009

Veteran ABC journalist compares deportation in Fiji and PNG

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 09:31
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AUSTRALIAN businesses in Papua New Guinea have been urged to value media freedom both the governments of PNG and Australia have to offer.
The advice came from veteran PNG commentator and former ABC correspondent in PNG, Sean Dorney.

“I’ve got a very simple message for those attending this PNG/Australia Business Forum – value the freedom that your media here in Papua New Guinea and in Australia work under,” Dorney said in his after-dinner speech at the PNG/Australia Business Council in
Madang early this week.

Such freedom, Dorney said was vital for democracy.

“I would like to compliment Papua New Guinea and successive PNG Governments for allowing this country to enjoy the benefits of a free and vibrant media.

“It is vital for democracy and, I believe, it is important not only for the economic health of PNG but also as an aid to attempts to achieve proper governance of this country.”

For a journalist that covers the Pacific, Dorney now holds the rare distinction of having being deported from PNG and most recently Fiji.

In an address laced with a humour and irony, the ABC journalist gave his speech the topic of “comparing and contrasting deportations from different Pacific nations”.

“I think I’m in a position to reveal that this place, Papua New Guinea, is far classier in its eviction of unwanted journalists than is Fiji – or at least that’s the case in my experience.

“Here, they not only let you back in, but later they give you an MBE!

“I can’t promise that would be true for everybody, of course, but my deep research into this one case and my own personal knowledge of the victim tells me that.”

In a tongue in cheek remark, Dorney said he would expect similar treatments from Fiji.

“I’ve got a bit of a dare for that despot over there in Suva. Frank, rise to the challenge that PNG has set.

“It’s pretty simple mathematics, mate!

“After I was deported from here in 1984, I was allowed back by 1987 and then, in 1990, I was awarded an MBE.

“Got it, Frank? Got it, Leweni?

“You guys have got less than three years to lift this ‘indefinite’ ban on me being allowed back in Fiji.

“And then if you are really serious about showing up PNG it is not only an election you’ve got to hold in 2014, Frank.

“It is an imperial honour – an award from the President of Fiji that I’ll be expecting!”

On a more serious note, Dorney told the business forum that life had been made very difficult for journalists in Fiji.

“At least six journalists from four different media outlets there have been picked up by the police since Easter and held for various periods under Fiji’s Emergency Regulations.

“The first one detained was Edwind Nand from Fiji One TV whose shocking crime was interviewing me about my deportation.

“That interview was never shown locally but it was sent to New Zealand and onto Australia.

“He was released after two nights at the Central Police Station with a warning.

“No one in the Fiji media is allowed to upset the new chief censor,
Lt-Col Neumi Leweni.”

For someone who has reported on Fiji for decades as Pacific correspondent for ABC’s Radio Australia and now as Pacific editor for its TV service, Australian Network, Dorney had a few things to say about Leweni.

“Leweni is an interesting case of what happens to those in favour with Commodore Bainimarama.

“Neumi was in the Royal Fiji Military Force band just a few years ago beating a drum. “He has had an amazingly rapid rise up through the ranks.

“When I first met him not all that long ago he was a Captain.

“Then he was promoted to Major.

“And since the events of Easter and befitting his new role as Fiji’s censorship czar as Permanent Secretary for Information, Communications and Archives, he’s been made a Lieutenant-Colonel.

“The censorship being imposed by Lt-Col Leweni on the local media in Fiji is total.

“No criticism whatsoever is allowed of Commodore Bainimarama or
anything he does or wants.” – fiji uncensored


May 7, 2009

Courage under fire


  • Fiji Times Editor in Chief NETANI RIKA, spoke today at a Pacific Freedom Forum Project XIX, Courage under Fire regional media workshop in Samoa. Project XIX refers to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of speech.

IT is difficult to put thoughts into words when you know that everything you say has the potential to be a threat to the very existence of 180 people with whom you work and close to 1000 who depend on them for a living.

Last month the Appeals Court in Fiji ruled that the removal of Laisenia Qarase’s government by the army and its shadowy group of supporters was illegal.

The three judges declared not only that the takeover was illegal but that the President appoint a caretaker prime minister to lead Fiji to democratic elections within a suitable time frame.

Hours after the judgment was handed down, the interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, agreed on national television to abide by the ruling and uphold the law.

The next day he was reappointed by the President – this time to head an interim government of the same people who had lead Fiji prior to the declarations of the court.

Immediately, a Public Emergency Regulation was put in place to ensure that there would be no opposition to Bainimarama’s regime.

In a nutshell the regulation prohibits public gatherings for the purpose of political meetings and – under Section 16 – stops the media from broadcasting or printing material which may incite the people.

This rule gives the Permanent Secretary wide-ranging and arbitrary powers to decide what may cause incitement. There is no requirement for this public servant to declare why the decision has been made to prevent a particular news item from being made public.

On the afternoon of Bainimarama’s return to power, the Permanent Secretary for Information told news editors that as part of the regulation, each media organization would be allocated a censor and that each censor would be accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes.

The police officer – we were told – was to protect the censor. We were not told from whom the censor would need protection.

In Fiji it is often the case that rules can change from day to day without warning or explanation.

As days and weeks have passed, the number of censors has increased, as has the number of police officers.

These enforcers of the law are no longer in plain clothes and sometimes take on the duty of the censors, deciding what we are permitted to print.

What, you may ask, are we permitted to print?

Basically any story on government must put the interim regime in a positive light or it will not be permitted.

No views contrary to those of the Interim Government are permitted – even if balance is provided in the form of a comment from a minister of state or a senior public servant.

Censors did not allow the publication of the reactions of the Commonwealth and the United Nations to the reappointment of Bainimarama as interim prime minister by our president.

We were not allowed to publish news of street protests in Thailand or the assassination attempt on US President Barak Obama.

Censors entered our newsroom on the evening of the day that the President ordered Bainimarama’s reinstatement.

Of course we had dozens of stories from all across the political spectrum showing reactions to this event. We were not allowed to publish any of these stories.

The next day our Sunday paper – which is now a collectors’ item – was published with white space in place of the stories which the censors – both trained journalists and one of whom had worked in the mainstream media – had culled.

We carried bold notices in those spaces declaring that the newspaper had been prevented from publishing the stories under the Public Emergency Regulations.

It was a sensation and drove home to the people of Fiji the point that we were powerless to tell the truth, powerless to tell the country what it needed to know, powerless to carry out our duty to the nation and provide free speech.

And it brought home to them the fact that media freedom is intrinsically linked to their right to know and their freedom of expression.

Unfortunately the interim government was not amused and the Fiji Times management was summoned before the Permanent Secretary for Information to be told that white space was not allowed under the Public Emergency Regulation.

What, then, do we do next?

We have decided to go about our daily assignments in the normal manner. Our journalists and photographers cover every possible assignment attempting to get as many sides of the story as possible.

Yes, we continue to cover stories which do not portray the Interim Government in a good light.

Those stories are assigned to pages and go to the censors each day. More often than not these stories are declared unfit for consumption by the people and are knocked back by the censors.

The next day we cover every assignment again – including the stories which the Interim Government does not want – and inundate the censors with copy.

Sometimes the stories get through, at other times they are spiked. It is an extremely frustrating exercise.

Last week a domestic airline was forced to close because of financial difficulties which are not linked to the current regime.

Our business writer prepared comprehensive coverage, covering all angles of the story, providing fact files, historical background – a masterpiece from a young journalist.

The censor on duty did not allow our reports to run unless we carried a quote from a specific minister.

We refused and pulled the story.

The following day we placed the same stories in front of a different censor – No worries, the issue was covered, albeit a day late.

It is safe to say that the greatest challenge we face with censorship is inconsistency.

What we may or may not cover is at the discretion or more often the whim of the censor on duty.

Last week the Public Emergency Regulation was extended for a further 30 days. The Permanent Secretary for Information declared this week that the media was now reporting responsibly.

In my view, Fiji’s media has always tried to report responsibly. Unfortunately, all of our country’s rulers since independence in 1970 believe that responsibility means no anti-government stories.

The people know of our inability to provide a truly independent view of what is happening in our home.

Those who can use shortwave radio to find a link to the outside world and news broadcast on Radio Australia or Radio New Zealand.

A plethora of blog sites has sprung up spewing Fiji stories, rumour, gossip and speculation into cyber-space.

Most of this news is accessible only to the small portion of the community which has access to the internet.

Unable to halt the onward march of the bloggers, Fiji’s rulers have resorted to ordering the closure of Internet cafes from 6pm each evening in an attempt to stem the tide.

But how does it stop the coconut wireless which for generations has provided steady – if not entirely factual – news in countries around the region?

But we gather this week to discuss courage under fire.

To say that Fiji’s media has been under fire since December 2006 is no exaggeration. We have been threatened, bullied and intimidated. Our cars have been smashed, our homes firebombed.

Despite this, our staff have remained committed to the ideals of a free media, telling the stories that must be told, exposing the weaknesses in State policies and also covering human interest assignments.

It is because of their commitment and refusal to detract from the cause that the Interim Government has been forced to gag the media.

It is important in these trying circumstances for senior journalists and managers to maintain a brave face and communicate constantly with their staff, offering support and protection.

It is also imperative that we offer guidance and direction and stress the importance of the role of a vibrant, free press in a democracy.

Training, upskilling and mentoring are also important.

At the Fiji Times we have found that our people – and many of them are young – understand the complexities of the situation we face.

How do we build their courage? Simply, by not backing down.

We continue to cover the issues which are important to people – water, roads, food prices, housing, superannuation, health services, governance, accountability, transparency.

Every story is covered in detail as if we were working in a truly democratic country without the current restrictions.

Each day we challenge the censors by putting every possible news item before them.

Sometimes we are lucky and the occasional story slips through the net. On those days we celebrate quietly.

The danger is that under the current circumstances, journalists may start to censor their own stories.

We must not allow that to happen.

It is vital – indeed it is our duty – to ensure that journalists continue to make every attempt to cover the issues that matter to the people, even if the stories we write do not portray our rulers in a good light.

Our leaders must learn to deal with criticism from the electorate.

For journalists it is frustrating to spend the day covering issues and then writing reports which cannot be printed.

To their credit, however, our team at the Fiji Times continues to cover the issues, continues to test the censors, continues to push the boundaries of the regime’s regulations.

That takes true immense courage.

In our a situation it would be easy to roll over and practice self-censorship or get out of journalism because it’s just too hard.

To their credit, however, our journalists have risen to the challenge, continued to report without fear or favors and remained objective.

They have bravely stood up to intimidation, rejected censorship and recognized that when a nation is controlled by usurpers it is imperative that the public’s right to know is protected at all costs.

And they are determined to break the culture of silence which so often surrounds our leaders – elected or otherwise.

I am proud of the journalists with whom I work and their colleagues in Fiji’s media industry. They are a tribute to the profession we all love so much. – fiji uncensored

April 26, 2009

NZ writers condemn censorship

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 14:29
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IF this won’t send shivers down the spine of the regime, it should at least hearten all members of the muzzled media.

(See? Journalists aren’t the only ones who know how to string together an alliterative phrase or two.)

The New Zealand Society of Authors “(incorporating PEN New Zealand)” has condemned the censorship of the media in Fiji.

Okay, their condemnation was made almost a week ago in a press release, but Fiji Uncensored in typically Fijian time, did not learn about it until today, no thanks to our readers – all five of you – who may have come across it earlier.

“We are distressed that such conditions can exist in our region of the world (or, indeed, anywhere),” the statement says.

“The repression of the media following the reappointment of Frank Bainimarana, despite the illegality of the regime being determined by the courts, is so severe that it is feared that even Fiji’s citizens simply do not know what is going on.”

The statement quotes Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “which establishes the principle that freedom of expression is an integral part of a global community working for the collective good of all peoples”.

“PEN New Zealand is an active supporter of freedom of speech and advocate for Article 19 which states that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

“As friends of all people in Fiji and as protectors, where possible, of the right of free speech, we call on Fiji as an active member of the United Nations to give credence to the Charter and human rights it supports and for the Fijian government to end its repression of the normal need of people to express their views in a peaceful and public manner, and to restore true democracy to their country.”

April 23, 2009

PINA condemns regime’s actions

Filed under: General — fijiuncensored @ 19:01
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THE Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) today strongly condemned actions of the interim Fiji Regime to censor news items coming out of the regional news service, PACNEWS and has again called for a strong regional stand on the ongoing flagrant abuse of democratic rights in Fiji.

PINA president Joseph Ealedona said it was a very sad day for the regional media organisation, which was the flagship of the Pacific islands media news service, to be bullied by the military regime and told to stop sending out negative political news about the situation in Fiji.

“This has now gone overboard and PINA urgently requests the Pacific Forum nations to take a united stand on the issue and demand that Fiji respect media freedom and the freedom of people to speak without intimidation and fear.”

Mr Ealedona said the pacific people and indeed the rest of the world are being denied information pertaining to the political and military activities in Fiji and therefore this calls for a unilateral condemnation and action from all stakeholders including regional bodies.

The PACNEWS editorial service will not to run news bulletins on the situation in Fiji but will continue its news service while taking into account the security and safety of its workers.

“PINA calls on President Josefa Illoilo to issue a decree [for]  the return of a free media for the sake of the people of Fiji who remain quite due to the intimidating tactics of the Fiji Military. “

Mr Ealedona said with Media and Press Freedom Day being celebrated on May 3, PINA wanted all national media associations in the region to begin dialogue with their respective governments  to press Fiji to relax its media restrictions and allow the free flow of information.

With regard to calls for the movement of the PINA office out of Fiji, Mr Ealedona said the PINA conference in July would discuss this issue. However, in the current situation, PINA would remain and stand by its members in Fiji while looking at options on how best PACNEWS could continue to perform its role as an independent Pacific news service.

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