SUVA (RNZ News/Pacific Media Watch): Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has apologised to three New Zealand journalists detained overnight in Suva by a “group of rogue officers”.
Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull were held overnight at the main Suva police station after Chinese developer Freesoul Real Estate accused them of criminal trespass.
They were in a holding room while waiting to be interviewed by the police this morning.
READ MORE: Fiji police detain 3 NZ journalists investigating Chinese developer
The prime minister condemned the police action in a statement in Parliament this morning.
“I have spoken with the Commissioner for Police who has assured me the detention of these journalists was an isolated incident undertaken by a small group of rogue officers,” Bainimarama said.
“A full investigation into why these officers would use such heavy-handed tactics will be undertaken, and any violations of protocol or undue influence will be met with appropriate action.”
The news media had been an ally in accountability, helping to expose the company’s illegal environmental destruction, he said.
Punishing country’s image
Fiji Media Association general secretary Stanley Simpson said the detention of foreign journalists overnight in police cells was very damaging and punishes the country’s image.
No one should be put in jail for asking questions or writing a story, he said.
Simpson said the media in Fiji had come through a very tough decade and to see this kind of mindset among certain police officers was shocking.
“We had the feeling that we are moving on and were free to do our work. But seeing this kind of action is, is really disturbing and disappointing and we want assurances from the government that this not happen again and must not happen even to any local journalist, or any journalist at all.
He said the New Zealand journalists should be free to finish off their story and do their job as journalists.
Earlier today, one of the detained reporters, Melanie Reid said the police chiefs decided after talking to the trio that they had no criminal intent.
They had spent around 13 hours in detention at the main police station after trying to interview the developer behind controversial environmental damage on the island of Malolo.
Reid said the police chiefs passed on an invitation to the Newsroom team to meet Fijian parliamentarians later today.
“We look forward to discussing the situation at Malolo Island with them. We have serious concerns about freedom of speech issues in Fiji so we will also raise this at our meetings with MPs.”
The New Zealand High Commission in Suva provided consular assistance to three New Zealand citizens.
The journalists had visited Freesoul’s Suva offices seeking an interview but been told to leave. Hours later, while they interviewed a lawyer acting for villagers of the damaged Malolo Island, Fijian police located their rental car and arrived and escorted them to the police station for questioning.
Newsroom had earlier said it understood Freesoul claimed the team walked past a sign in its office that said “authorised staff only”.
Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy told RNZ Morning Report the journalists went across to Suva to get feedback – or comment at least – from the developer and were told to leave.
Murphy said Freesoul was claiming there was a criminal trespass and were making a statement with the arrest, but he was not sure why.
This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.
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