The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, today voiced grave concern about the suspension of press freedom in Fiji under thirty-day Public Emergency Regulations that came into force on 10 April.
According to the new regulations, editors are not allowed to publish or broadcast any material that shows the military in an unfavourable light. Sensitive stories must be approved by government officials before publication and media organizations ignoring these directives may be shut down.
“I am gravely concerned about press freedom in Fiji,” the Director-General declared. “The basic human right of freedom of expression, which underpins press freedom, is essential for democracy, good governance and rule of law. I urge the authorities to allow open debate that is always essential if lasting solutions to difficulties and disagreements are to be found.”
“Depriving people of news and information about events that affect them only breeds fear and suspicions. Such measures will not promote a solution to the nation’s social and political problems,” Mr Matsuura added.
The Public Emergency Regulations were proclaimed after Army Chief Commodore, Frank Bainimarama, was reinstated as Prime Minister, and the President of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, abolished the Constitution and dismissed judges who said that the island nation’s military government was illegal.
UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom. Article 1 of its Constitution requires the Organization to “further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.” To realize this the Organization is requested to “collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image.