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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 3, 2000 – Pacific Media Watch/Fiji Times/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The Fiji Government has pledged that the country's citizens will have access to official state information under the Freedom of Information Bill, according to the Fiji Times.

The newspaper on February 3, 2000 reported some details of the draft legislation as Parliament prepares for its sitting on February 14.

Attorney-General Anand Singh was reported to have said the Bill followed recommendations of the Reeves Commission which drafted the 1997 Constitution and opened the door for Fiji's return to the Commonwealth.

"The main theme of the Bill is that there should be a move away from secretive to open and transparent government in that having to justify requests for official information, people should be entitled to have it, unless there is a good reason why it should be withheld," Singh said.

Access to information made the public better informed and the duty to provide it made officials more comfortable, he said.

"Maybe some information needs to be kept confidential, for example, [matters] of security, public order, economic stability, commercial transaction, legal privileges and privacy of individuals," Singh said.

Under the Bill, the Fiji Times cited Singh as saying, the public would have the right to a written explanation from government and its agencies on decisions that affect them personally.

The draft legislation was based partly on Australia's Freedom of Information Act and New Zealand's Official Information Act.

"It gives members of the public a right to have corrected any personal information relating to them which is held by the government and which is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading," Singh said.

Government agencies would be required under the Bill to publish information about their activities and the categories of documents they held.

The Ombudsman would be vested with powers to investigate complaints against a person or organizations, Singh said.

He added that the Reeves Commission had recommended a review of the Public Records Act and the repeal of the Official Secrets Act.

Title -- 2536 FIJI: Government pledges FOI law Date -- 3 February 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- PMW/FT, 3/2/00 Copyright -- PMW/FT Status -- Unabridged



(See background:

SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 3, 2000 – Pacific Media Watch/Fiji Times/Fiji’s Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Fiji's Assistant Minister of Information, Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, has condemned the Fiji Times for an alleged bias in its policy over publishing letters to the editor, according to two daily newspapers.

He has threatened to file a formal complaint against the newspaper with the Fiji Media Council, the country's self-regulatory body which adjudicates on complaints against the print and broadcast media.

A report in the Fiji Times on February 3, 2000 said "the policy of publishing letters that have not been published elsewhere was a guise for indiscriminate practice and bias against certain contributors."

Vayeshnoi was apparently referring to himself over a perceived failure by the newspaper to publish some letters by the assistant minister. He has a reputation as a prodigious letter writer to newspaper editors, often on pedantic issues.

The Daily Post quoted Vayeshnoi as saying the Fiji Times had an obligation to publish the letters.

The Daily Post said: "According to Vayeshnoi, his ministry has borne the brunt of this heavy handed policy by the paper. He said the Fiji Times had continually refused to publish a number of responses by government to criticisms leveled at it, thus depriving readers of fair and balanced reports."

Vayeshnoi called on the public to "decry" the policy of the paper "that owes its existence to their patronage."

In recent months, the Fiji government and the Fiji Times, owned by the Rupert Murdoch News, Ltd. group, have been engaged in a war of words about media coverage of government policies.

Title -- 2535 FIJI: Minister protests against Fiji Times letters policy Date -- 3 February 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- PMW/FT/DP, 3/2/00 Copyright -- PMW/FT/DP Status – Unabridged

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