1st July 2014
On 27 June 2014, Amnesty International Australia reported that attacks against the media are one of the most serious violations of the right to freedom of expression in Fiji (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/fiji-end-harassment-journalists-ahead-election-2014-06-27). They elaborated that there is a worrying pattern in Fiji of the authorities trying to silence journalists ahead of the elections in September.
This highlights a growing concern regarding intimidation and harassment techniques employed against media outlets, the latest of which involves two journalists from the University of South Pacific, who commented on an apparent admission by the military that they used torture. The response from Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) regarding these comments was to investigate the two academics.
We have witnessed a worrying trend of the media being heavily controlled by various measures, and we now have a media industry that cannot report independently without fear of reprimand. This has led to a great deal of self-censorship amongst journalists and media outlets, which could greatly compromise the ability of the media to report freely and fairly on elections and election issues. MIDA has a critical role in ensuring independent, accurate and balanced reporting. Continuing to silence journalists for reporting substantiated claims does not pursue this goal.
Media freedoms play a vital role in any democracy, particularly in the lead up to elections and the transition to a new democracy. If the media is censored and journalists are unable to report independently, it is difficult for citizens to be fully informed of relevant issues. As such, the ability of voters to make an informed decision come polling day is likely to be compromised.
As a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Fiji should strive to educate and promote respect for Article 19 of the UDHR both in spirit and in form: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
This freedom is also anchored in Fiji’s very own 2013 Constitution and therefore the obligation is on all of us collectively to uphold and protect these constitutional freedoms. In moving towards democracy, we must demand our right to freedom of expression, and celebrate a wide divergence of views, as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming 2014 elections.