A HAND comes through a hatch in the wall, and each night journalists at The Fiji Times are obliged to deliver the page proofs of the next day's issue to the police censors corralled in a small office on the other side.
"The rules are a blanket edict that we not report anything bad about the Government," says Netani Rika, the Murdoch-owned paper's editor-in-chief.
But up to the point at which the proofs disappear through the hatch, Rika insists the Times will continue to function as a proper news paper.
He covers all issues, dispatching reporters daily to write what he believes should be reported. But he estimates that since the start of a crackdown on the media in April by the Bainimarama regime, more than 4000 Times reports have been blocked in the nightly carve-up.
Some evenings six uniformed censors present for duty, arriving between 7pm and 8pm.
"They say we can't report the details of a problem, but we can report the minister's response," Rika says. Rather than adopt the regime's insistence on what it calls "the journalism of hope", he has made the Times a politics-free zone. "We made a stand at the start - when it comes to politics, we must be able to report all or nothing."
Rika cites perverse examples of such a regimen. Last week the military was finalising a $F11 million ($6.5 million) salary adjustment for soldiers, but the story was pulled by the censors - even though it was based on a media release issued by the military chief-of-staff. "The army obviously wanted people to know, but the censors didn't - because of downsizing and spending restrictions elsewhere in the civil service," Rika says.
A story on a boy who could not sit school exams on one of the northern islands, because a breakdown prevented his village boat from delivering the papers, suffered the same fate as it reflected on the education system.
Revealing a blacklist of Fijian figures who could not be quoted and, in some cases, whose image could not be published, Rika says: "If you are not onside with the administration, or you are seen as an enemy or undesirable, there is no way the censors will allow you to have a voice.''
But the censorship straitjacket is preferable to the regime's ''journalism of hope'' halfway house, he says. "What we can't risk is self-censorship. Do that and we'd be rearing a generation of journalists who would hesitate before writing - they'd be a pretty tame bunch by the time democracy returned.''
The Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, issued a decree last week that observers say would empower the regime to bump television stations off air. He also said only two media outlets were the primary targets of censorship laws: The Fiji Times and Fiji TV, which competes with the government-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation - where Mr Sayed-Khaiyum's younger brother, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has been installed as chief executive.
Lambasting the Times for not reporting the regime's activities, he told the Herald: "So you can imagine what they were like before there was censorship. These two outlets didn't have independence in the first place" - Sydney Morning Herald