AUCKLAND (Reporters Sans Frontières / Pacific Media Centre): Reporters Sans Frontières and the Pacific Media Centre/Pacific Media Watch have called for repeal of the Media Decree and introduction of a Freedom of Information law in Fiji ahead of a United Nations periodic review next month.
Fiji has returned to democracy in the past week with the 2006 coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama being elected prime minister with a dominating victory. He was sworn in as Prime Minister yesterday.
The joint RSF-PMC submission will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council when it monitors Fiji at its universal periodic review next month.
The review sees every UN member state being reviewed every four and a half years, and then being given recommendations that they must implement before the next review.
At Fiji's last review in 2010, Fiji accepted dozens of UN Human Rights Council recommendations including that they abolish the death penalty, ensure the independence of the Human Rights Commission, pass new laws against domestic violence, investigate all alleged human rights violations and bring all those responsible to justice and that they set up a visit for the UN special rapporteur on torture.
Fiji was also tasked with setting up an environment in which all of Fiji's citizens can meet freely and express political opinions without fear or retribution, and with ending arbitrary detention of human rights defenders.
The UN Human Rights Council's recommendations in 2010 were that the then military regime stop repressing journalists, end censorship of the media and guarantee the integrity of human rights defenders and of persons who criticise the government's actions, stop attacks, harassment, intimidation and detention with regard to journalists, critics and human rights activists and allow people to criticise the regime without fear of arrest, intimidation or punishment.
End to threats
However, according to the joint RSF-PMC submission, Fiji has yet to accomplish most of these recommendations.
Among the recommendations, the joint submission says there must be an end to indirect threats against the media or editorial interference. The government should take steps to ensure more transparency and access to information by urgently enacting a Freedom of Information law.
The Media Industry Development Decree must be revoked and bans on individual foreign journalists who have annoyed the military regime with their reporting must be lifted.
RSF's Asia-Pacific director Benjamin Ismail says the submission aims to highlight to UN member states what the Fiji government needs to do to achieve press freedom and a transparent society where there is access to information.
It was "regrettable" that the media decree had resulted in a 48-hour "blackout" on media coverage of last week's elections, said Ismail.
"Press freedom in electoral period and during the elections has been under attack. More media coverage and press freedom could have decreased the risk of fraud. I truly hope the fraud accusations will not throw the country into a political crisis," Ismail told PMW.
PMC director professor David Robie welcomed the successful election last week, but added: "This is just a start. There is a long journey ahead and full press freedom is a critical part of that journey."
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