FIJI ISLANDS PRIME MINISTER, NEWS MEDIA CLASH AGAIN

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ALERT INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION (IFEX) Toronto, Canada Website: http://www.ifex.org/

August 16, 1999

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva, Fiji Islands **For background on cases involving the media and the Prime Minister see IFEX alerts of 19 July, 5 July, 23 June, 21 June, 18 June, 16 June, 11 June, 4 June, 21 May and 7 May 1999 at http://www.ifex.org/.**

On August 15, 1999, Fiji Islands Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry accused "elements in the media" of trying to destabilize his new government, the news media reported. The "Sunday Post" quoted Chaudhry as giving as an example the debate about his new government's plan to introduce a national minimum wage. He told a convention of his Fiji Labour Party: "Even before government could initiate dialogue on this, certain elements in the media, who are no doubt there to protect the interests of the establishment, began a campaign to distort and discredit government’s policy on this, stirring up all sorts of hysteria on what we plan to do."

Chaudhry was quoted as saying groups are fighting to hold on to their power bases behind "abstract notions" such as media freedom and freedom of expression.

On August 16, the country's biggest daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times," responded with an editorial comment which said: "Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry is obviously banking on a smart political strategy to draw public attention away from the problems his administration faces. He puts the blame squarely on the media each time the pressure is on him to deliver his election promises." The editorial also said: "While in the Opposition and as a trade unionist, he befriended and used the media to put pressure on the administration to produce the goods. Now that he is on the Government side, he has changed his tactics and tune. The media is no longer an ally but an enemy for the sake of political expedience."

BACKGROUND:

The Fiji Islands has among 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 and commercial and community television; and government-owned public and commercial radio stations. However, the news media have come under continuing criticism from Prime Minister Chaudhry and his Assistant Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi since the election of the new Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government in May. It has included threats to impose a government-legislated media council in place of the present self-regulatory council and to move against "foreign" interests in the media (see 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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