GOVERNMENT EXAMINES "FIJI TIMES" REPORT

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ALERT

INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION (IFEX) Toronto, Canada

FOR POSSIBLE PUBLIC ORDER ACT BREACH

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva, Fiji Islands **Updates IFEX alerts of 5 July, 23 June and 22 June 1999** See: http://www.ifex.org/

SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 3, 1999 - PINA/IFEX) - On 2 August 1999, the "Daily Post" reported that the Fiji Islands government is examining a report by the country's biggest daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times", for a possible breach of the Public Order Act.

Minister for Lands and Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) Ratu Mosese Volavola was quoted by the "Daily Post" as saying: "I wonder if the newspaper editors were genuinely concerned about the plight of the landowners or they simply saw this as another opportunity to discredit the efforts of the new government." He added: "Media responsibility is again the issue which comes to the forefront in this kind of negative and irresponsible journalism."

"The Fiji Times" report of 31 July quoted a major indigenous Fijian landowner and traditional chief as warning of bloodshed if the government attempts to alter land lease agreements under ALTA. She told "The Fiji Times" there was no need for dialogue with the government, as the indigenous Fijians want back their land which has been leased out to mainly ethnic Indian canefarmers.

"The Fiji Times" quoted Minister Volavola as saying: "The government will take the necessary steps to ensure that the...ALTA story in 'The Fiji Times' is examined by the State Law Office to determine a possible breach of the Public Order Act with intent to create ill-will amongst our major ethnic communities."

The newspaper responded with an editorial comment which said: "It seems this Government will never understand that the media in general and this newspaper in particular is not against it. The latest display of official paranoia comes from the Minister for Lands, Ratu Mosese Volavola. He thinks ‘The Fiji Times’ published the warning by the Marama Tui Ba that Fijians would shed blood if the Government tried to interfere with ALTA in an effort to somehow discredit the Government. He goes on to offer the view that it is irresponsible to prominently report the statements of one of the nation's largest landowners.

"He even has a warning of his own: that the newspaper may have breached The Public Order Act 'with intent to create ill will amongst our major ethnic communities.' Ratu Mosese, like so many of his colleagues, is misguided, mistaken and misinformed on the role of the media. Adi Senimili Cagilaba made a very strong statement outlining her stand on ALTA and the renewal of leases. She warned that blood would flow if the Government sought to alter the ALTA arrangements.

"That, for Ratu Mosese'[s] enlightenment, is news. This newspaper is in the business of reporting news. Whether or not the news puts the Government in a good light is not a concern. Understandably, Ratu Mosese does not like this particular piece of news. But by blaming the media for having the effrontery to publish it, he invites public ridicule.

"For the record, this newspaper supports the Government's and the Prime Minister's efforts to resolve the ALTA impasse in a speedy and equitable manner. The Fiji Times has consistently called for a solution to this problem, the most important that the Government and the nation face today.

"Without such a solution the whole future of Fiji is under a cloud of uncertainty. And it is heartening that the Prime Minister has personally intervened in an effort to find the answer the country so desperately needs. Indeed, if Ratu Mosese would concentrate his own energies on the real issue - ALTA - instead of blasting hot air in the direction of the media, more progress might be made.

"Instead of denigrating this newspaper, he might be better employed addressing the very real concern of landowners such as Adi Senimili. And while this newspaper does not share her views on ALTA, it believes that little can be gained by suppressing them as Ratu Mosese seems intent on doing."

BACKGROUND:

The Fiji Islands has amongst the most diverse and free news media in the Pacific Islands. They include two seven-day-a-week English-language daily newspapers, with a third about to be launched; weekly newspapers in Hindi, Fijian, and English; news, business, trade and entertainment magazines; independent commercial, community and religious radio stations; government-owned public and commercial radio stations; and commercial and community television. But the news media have come under continuing attack from Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and assistant Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi since the election of the new Labour-led coalition government in May (see recent IFEX alerts).

For further information, contact: Nina Ratulele, Coordinator PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network

Pacific Islands News Association Mailing Address: Pacific Islands News Association Private Mail Bag, Suva Fiji Islands Street Address: Level 2, Damodar Centre 46 Gordon Street Suva, Fiji Islands Tel: +679 303623 Fax: +679 303943 E-mail: pina@is.com.fj

Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA/

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of PINA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit PINA.

DISTRIBUTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EXCHANGE (IFEX) CLEARING HOUSE 489 College Street Toronto (ON) M6G 1A5 CANADA Tel: +1 416 515 9622 Fax: +1 416 515 7879 Alerts e-mail: alerts@ifex.org General e-mail: ifex@ifex.org Internet site: http://www.ifex.org/

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