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Rights groups concerned over Fiji draft media law

[JURIST] International rights organizations voiced concern Tuesday about a draft media law [text, PDF] the Fijian government is slated to approve in the near future. The Media Industry Development Decree 2010 includes several provisions that could result in the imprisonment of journalists for up to five years and stiff fines. Pacific Researcher for Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] Apolosi Bose criticized the legislation [press release], saying, "[t]he Fijian government is giving itself a license to imprison or bankrupt its critics. The decree will further restrain the media from reporting government and military abuses, for fear of reprisals through a kangaroo court." International Federation of Journalists [advocacy website] General Secretary Aidan White said [press release] last week:

It is not surprising that Fiji's regime says it will drop its emergency regulations once the media decree is adopted. The decree is clearly focused on the regime retaining control and entrenching its highly oppressive restrictions, not only on the media but on members of the public who might wish to express dissenting views.

Of particular concern is provision 21, which bars content that "(a) is against the public interest or order; (b) is against national interest; (c) offends against good taste or decency; or (d) creates communal discord," and provisions 25 and 26, which penalize media representatives who fail to provide documentation or information requested or refuse searches and seizures for which law enforcement authorities have obtained a warrant. Failure to adhere to provisions could result in fines of up $500,000 for a mass media institutions, and fines of up to $100,000 for editors, publishers, and journalists and up to fives years imprisonment. The tribunal overseeing implementation of the Media Industry Development Decree will be led by a presidential appointee, casting doubt on that entity's independence. The law is expected to be approved during a Cabinet meeting in the near future.

Fiji has been in turmoil since former president Ratu Josefa Iloilo suspended the constitution last April and revoked the appointment of all judicial officers after an appeals court ruling [JURIST reports] declaring the appointment of the military government following the 2006 coup unconstitutional. Bainimarama took control in the wake of the coup, which ousted former Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile]. More recently, the Commonwealth of Nations [official website] suspended [JURIST report] Fiji from its organization in September because it failed to meet the September 1 deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue. The Pacific Islands Forum [official website] suspended [JURIST report] Fiji's membership in the 16-nation bloc in May after Fiji's current military government failed to meet a May 1 deadline to schedule elections. Bainimarama announced plans [JURIST report] in July to establish a new constitution by September 2013. In its 2009 Human Rights Report on Fiji [text], the US State Department [official website] noted deteriorating conditions in the areas of judicial independence and media freedom.

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