Pacific Media Watch

3 August 2010

FIJI: Former Fiji Sun publisher condemns 'great fear' in media

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Russell Hunter: "Reporters are scared, they have been threatened." Photo: Fiji Times
Authorities pull Fijilive website, detain news editor

Geraldine Coutts

[PMW editor's note: Fijilive was back online Monday after being offline at the weekend.]

6948 MELBOURNE: The Fijilive website, one of the largest in Fiji, has been pulled from the internet following a report filed on the website last week alleging the suspension of the police commissioner which is assumed to have breached Fiji's new media decree.

Fijilive's news editor Richard Naidu was taken in on Friday by Fiji's Criminal Investigations Department and was detained overnight. Police spokeswoman Ema Dimila says that "police will not hesitate to take action against those who do not abide by the media decree".

Fijilive is currently not included in the list of media organisations announced on Friday to have registered under the media decree by interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Pacific Beat has sought comment from Fiji's police and interim government but has been unable to have either body accept the invitation.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Russell Hunter, former editor-in-chief of the Fiji Sun who now lives in Samoa after being expelled from Fiji in 2008

HUNTER: It was news to me and most of my contacts in Fiji, as you know there are military censors in every news room. Now quite how that one got past the censors is a bit of a mystery, but I imagine some censors are being questioned also.

COUTTS: Now Fijilive is not on the list at the moment. That would have been their choice not to be included and pay the licence fee?

HUNTER: Well, we don't know that. I only know what Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says. He says that they did not submit the required documentation. Whether that is true or not we don't know, because nobody has been able to talk to the proprietor of Fijilive which is Yashwant Gaunder and even if someone did, the story would be unlikely again to get past the censors.

COUTTS: Well, what are you hearing about this through your contacts?

HUNTER: What I'm hearing is very little I'm afraid. There is great fear among Fiji's journalists to contact people overseas, such as myself. The oversight of the junta is all pervasive and people are very, very careful. Nevertheless, there is some information which doesn't really help us much, people are saying they don't know.

COUTTS: Are you surprised that this has happened now? Some would have thought that the surprise is it didn't happen sooner?

HUNTER: I am quite surprised actually. I thought if that story was in fact broadcast, I personally did not see it, but I would have expected immediate action, not a few days later.

COUTTS: Now Yashwant Gaunder, is the owner of the organisation. He's been a person of interest to the interim regime for sometime. What do you know about that?

HUNTER: Yeah, I believe that's true. The reasons behind it are murky to put it mildly. It's difficult to see just exactly what he's done to attract that attention shall we say. The website seems to be following the rules. It was censured anyway like everything else. It's a bit of a mystery.

COUTTS: At the outset, the interim regime said that once the media decree was introduced that the censors in the newsrooms would no longer be needed, but that doesn't seem to be happening?

HUNTER: Well yeah, exactly. It's like so many promises that have been made. Nobody takes them seriously anymore.

COUTTS: And what do you think the state of the media is in Fiji at the moment from people you've been talking to?

HUNTER: It's in a very bad way. Reporters are scared, they have been threatened, that has not stopped. The threat now of course is a large fine or imprisonment if they step out of line, but it's very, very difficult for those people there.

COUTTS: But it's falling in a way in the lap of the interim regime. This is precisely what they want. They want the media to be scared, so that there is no reporting of what happens and look what happens if you do?

HUNTER: Yes, that is exactly right. They tried physical threats and intimidation and that didn't work, so hence we have the media decree.

COUTTS: What can be done now when the major organisations are being asked to leave or close down, like News Limited, are there few alternatives now beyond blogging?

HUNTER: That's exactly right and other newspapers around the region web sites such as ours at the Samoa Observer. People in Fiji are increasingly turning to these to try and find out what is going on at home, because we know that their own media cannot inform them. - Radio Australia Pacific Beat/Pacific Media Watch

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

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