The Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which the administration announced yesterday had been gazetted on June 25, permanently installs the sweeping censorship that has been in force in Fiji since “temporary” emergency regulations were imposed in April 2009.
The decree is little changed from a draft that met with international condemnation when it was announced in April.
“The Bainimarama regime claims it has revised many elements of its draft decree after a sham public consultation. But the decree now made law erases the rights of journalists’ and the media to report in the public interest,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
“Fiji’s power-holders need to step back from this coercive and ultimately destructive law, and initiate moves to a cooperative independent regulatory system that is supported by local media and recognised by the international community.”
The law provides for two government-appointed bodies. A Media Tribunal will comprise one member appointed by the President. A Media Industry Development Authority will have six members appointed by the Minister for Information.
Under the law, the regime and its authorities will decide what is fair, balanced and quality journalism. They will “ensure that nothing is included in the content of any media service which is against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord”.
The IFJ fears for journalists and media organisations, which can be fined and jailed if the tribunal rules that news reports breach the regime’s media codes, including its Media Code of Ethics and Practice.
Media organisations face fines of $100,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 50,600), publishers or editors $25,000 (about USD 12,600) and journalists or other employees of media organisations $1000 (about USD 500).
The tribunal may also order compensation of up to $100,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 50,600) be paid by media organisations to “any person aggrieved or adversely affected” by media reports.
The tribunal can order media organisations and their employees to disclose sources. If they do not, they can be fined $10,000 (about USD 5060) or jailed for up to two years, or both.
The law retrospectively requires that all media organisations be registered with the authority and 90 per cent owned by citizens of Fiji.
"This action clearly targets the Fiji Times, which is owned by News Ltd.The paper, which has a staff of about 200, is the only local media outlet to try to maintain critical independence despite attacks, threats, intimidation and more than a year of strict censorship."
The right of appeal against tribunal decisions is only available where a penalty or compensation payment of $50,000 Fiji dollars (about USD 25,300) has been ordered.
“Journalists and other media workers could lose their jobs as a result, but it is the people of Fiji who will suffer the most from the blackout on independent critical voices,” White said.