MILITARY SAYS NO MORE INTERFERENCE WITH MEDIA

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 7) – There will be no further interference by the military in the role of the nation's media, says acting commander, Captain Esala Teleni.

This follows the voluntary closure of The Fiji Times on Tuesday night and of the Fiji Television newsroom when the military attempted to impose censorship on reporting.

Yesterday, a meeting between Captain Teleni and senior executives of four media companies and the chairman of the Fiji Media Council, Daryl Tarte, saw the military give an undertaking on behalf of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama that there would be no censorship.

Captain Teleni apologised for the military's actions the night before and said it had been a "misunderstanding" due to "misinformation". However, he asked the media to be responsible and not to publish or broadcast material that could incite trouble.

On Tuesday night six unarmed soldiers entered The Fiji Times newsroom and told senior company executives that they wished to place a soldier in the newsroom to monitor incoming faxes and check stories to be published the next day.

If the company published material that was pro-Qarase government "propaganda"or anti-military, the newspaper would be closed.

Following discussions, Fiji Times Ltd managing director Tony Yianni declared the newspaper could not accept the military's demands and ordered the newspaper closed.

The military delegation also visited Fiji Television, Fiji Broadcasting Company Limited and FM96 with similar demands.

It is understood that soldiers were placed in the studios of the radio stations and within the television station, although the station, rather than accept censorship, also closed its newsroom.

The military visited the Fiji Sun, but the newspaper had already been printed. Yesterday morning, following an approach by The Fiji Times, the military gave permission for the printing of a special afternoon edition of the newspaper.

A subsequent meeting of media executives made an approach to the military for a meeting, which was accepted.

The Fiji Times has now resumed normal publication and the soldiers have been withdrawn from the other media outlets.

News Limited chairman and chief executive John Hartigan yesterday called on the Fiji military to allow publication of The Fiji Times newspaper to continue without restrictions.

Mr Hartigan said the military intervention raised serious concerns about the safety of employees and that the company was closely monitoring the situation.

"We will do whatever we can to uphold democracy and freedom of speech provided that we can also guarantee the safety of our staff in Fiji," he said. "Fiji Times managing director Tony Yianni and Editor Samisoni Kakaivalu are satisfied that normal publication has resumed and they are handling this crisis with skill, diplomacy and courage."

News Limited has also called on the Australian government to do whatever it can to ensure the most basic accepted principles of democracy and free speech are upheld in Fiji and to persuade the Fiji military to allow unrestricted media coverage of the current crisis.

"Fiji's citizens have the right to expect unfettered access to objective, factual news reporting," Mr Hartigan said.

Mr Yianni said the military's demands breached the Constitution of Fiji that specifically protected freedom of speech.

The demands also breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We were ordered to breach the Constitution and not publish any dissenting views that may be sent to us by free citizens, as well as the views of legally elected members of the Qarase Government.

"If we do not have the freedom to publish with responsibility, then we do not publish.

"We would never and have never published anything that would incite people to do wrongdoing.

"The Bill of Rights is for everybody and not just for the Army.

"I think the military needs to remember an age-old truism in a battle between guns and pens, pens always win."

Mr Kakaivalu said he refused to edit any newspaper in which content had been altered or censored in any way by external forces.

"I, and my staff, refuse to work for any publication under these conditions. This is no longer journalism, but propaganda exactly the effect the Army says it is trying to prevent."

The Fiji Media Council, in a statement, said the freedom of the press was enshrined in Section 30 of the Constitution and that the Army needed to uphold it.

"The military should always allow the media organisations to operate freely without intimidation.

The Council said they would continue to be in full compliance with the code of ethics by ensuring news stories were balanced accurate and fair.

Meanwhile, media organisations, especially overseas media expressed their concern at the conduct of the Fiji military in their attempt to control the free flow of information.

The Editor of Courier Mail in Briasbane Australia, David Fagan said it was completely unacceptable in a democracy for military troops to arrive at a newspaper and demand to vet copy.

"These are indeed sad times for Fiji but your stance in refusing to allow them to control your publication is a brave and correct decision," said Mr Fagan.

Group Editorial Manager for News Limited Australia, Warren Beeby said he was in touch with the Australian government to encourage them to do what they can to foster a return of free speech in the face of military censorship.

Garry Bailey from the News Limited in Hobart Australia said the newspaper had maintained their advocacy on the freedom of press on behalf of the Fiji media in Tasmania.

The editor of another publication, Fishing Magazine in New Zealand, Allan Burgess said newspapers were the body armour of freedom and liberty.

"I wish to send my support to the editor of the Fiji Times. No one can tell the editor of a newspaper what he can or cannot publish," said Mr Burgess.

The Editor in Chief of the Herald and Weekly Times in Melbourne, Peter Blunden said: "We wish to extend to you all the strongest possible message of support as you battle to carry out your duties.

"It's disappointing that you're forced to endure such circumstances, but it is paramount that all staff are safe and that you're again free to do you job as soon as possible."

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