#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Blogs rule as Fiji Regime cracks down on media

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogs rule as Fiji Regime cracks down on media

WELLINGTON (AFP/Google/Pacific Media Watch): Fijians keeping up with
political developments since the media clampdown by Voreqe
Bainimarama's military regime this month are turning to a growing band
of internet blogs.

The latest political upheaval in the troubled South Pacific nation was
triggered by the regime's repeal of the constitution on April 10,
accompanied by the sacking of the judiciary and emergency regulations
to control free speech.

Regime censors have been sent into newsrooms to prevent sensitive
political stories being published or broadcast.

Most media have responded by refusing to run any political news,
leaving a vacuum quickly filled by the blogs, many contributed to by
journalists who have lost their conventional outlets.

Blogs played a part in the 2000 coup and again when military chief
Bainimarama toppled the elected government in late 2006, with
authorities helpless to restrict them in the same way as the
traditional media.

"I think the Fiji journalists are enormously resilient and courageous
and they have shown in the past they are very adaptable at dealing with
oppressive regimes as they have with the previous three coups," says
Pacific journalist and academic David Robie.

Experienced journalists in Fiji are all too familiar with attacks on
media freedom after a series of four coups between 1987 and
Bainimarama's 2006 takeover.

"But this is the first time we have had really systematic censorship
and for getting on for two weeks now," said Dr Robie, an associate
professor and director of the Pacific Media Centre at the Auckland
University of Technology.

Former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Sireli Kini said
the clampdown on the media was creating more uncertainty, with news
being replaced by rumours.

"It's human instinct, people want to know what's happening and when
somebody spreads a rumour it spreads like wildfire and it's very
destructive," said Kini, who now lives in Auckland.

Some of the blogs have relayed rumours and wild anti-regime rhetoric,
but others, such as Coup Four and a Half and Fiji Uncensored, have a
strong news focus.

With Fijian journalists contributing material, these blogs are filling
the gap left by the muzzled media.

"They have taken over the role of the conventional journalism by
informing the members of the public," said Kini.

"Some of them are on the target. There are some well written stories
there."

Under the latest crackdown, Bainimarama has announced any person or
entity which fails to comply with government media orders may be told
to "cease operations".

"We want to come up with these reforms and the last thing we want to do
is have opposition to these reforms throughout. So that was the reason
we've come up with emergency regulations," Bainimarama said in
explanation.

When the censors first entered the newsrooms on April 11, the
newspapers and broadcasters devised their own ways of protesting.

The television news bulletin was cancelled and the next day the Fiji
Times appeared with blank columns with "This story could not be
published due to government restrictions" written across them.

The rival Fiji Post tried a satirical approach, reporting on what staff
had eaten for breakfast on the front page.

These reactions angered the regime, which threatened to close down the
offenders if there was any repeat.

The government also expelled three foreign journalists who had arrived
to report on the upheaval and at least two local journalists were
detained but later released because of work they had done for foreign
media.

Now the main media are not carrying any political news at all, leaving
Bainimarama unable to communicate effectively with Fijians.

"They've shot themselves in the foot by doing this, because by clamping
down they've cancelled out any chance of getting their side of the
story across as well," said Dr Robie, who was coordinator of Suva's
University of the South Pacific journalism programme during the 2000
coup.

Judging by past experience, the regime is likely to gradually ease the
restrictions.

"I think there will be a loosening in time, but it's hard to say with
the degree of paranoia at the moment just what will unfold," Dr Robie
said.

Until then, the blogs will continue filling the news void.

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