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Fiji Times editor faces threats after ‘silence’ speech in Brisbane

Netani Rika at the University of Queensland. Photo: UQ/

Netani Rika at the University of Queensland. Photo: UQ/Marie M'Balla-Ndi

Pacific.Scoop
By Holly Holmes in Brisbane

Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika has returned to Fiji from a visit to Australia last week to receive “serious and credible” threats, say staff at the University of Queensland journalism school.

Hailed by colleagues as a “Pacific journalism hero”, Rika has faced much harassment over his outspoken opposition to Fiji’s military regime and its draconian media censorship.

One threat after his media freedom speech in Brisbane – pressuring him to step down as editor-in-chief – was posted on a pro-regime blog, Real Fiji News, declaring:

“…Leave your day job so we can move ahead, you are without a doubt the most evil of them all, and your day is coming don’t worry about that, in fact we have one little surprise left for you”.

Rika told Radio Australia: “While I’ve been away from Fiji over the last few days, we have had some strange visitors at home and a phone call to the newsroom asking when I would be back.

“In the current situation it forces us to be extremely careful.”

Fiji has been ruled by the illegal regime of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama since a military coup in December 2006.

Following Easter Thursday’s Appeal Court decision this year ruling that the regime was illegal, then President Ratu Josefa Iloilo abrogated the constitution, reinstalled the Bainimarama and Public Emergency Regulations (PER) replaced the 1997 Constitution.

Under the PER, regime censors were placed in Fiji’s newsrooms and have now been replaced by uniformed police officers, many with no experience in the media.

Rika, who received the 2009 Tavake Fusmalohi Pacific Media Freedom Award at the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) conference in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last month, was hosted by UQ’s School of Journalism and Communication to speak about “silence in paradise”.

“This means that no story involving the police will see the light of day if it involves corruption or officers breaking the law,” Rika said.

Despite the dangers, the Fiji Times continues to report objectively on issues of governance, accountability and transparency although these articles are rarely published, Rika said.

For Rika and journalists at the Fiji Times, this resistance comes at a price.

“We have been threatened, bullied and intimidated. Our cars have been smashed, our homes firebombed,” he said.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, criticised the situation in April, saying: “The basic human right of freedom of expression, which underpins press freedom, is essential for democracy, good governance and rule of law.”

Faced with the enormous pressure to succumb to government demands, Rika believes the real danger is that journalists may start to censor their own stories.

“This administration wants a particular message to go out to the people. They want the public to think that all is good. Let me tell you, that message is far from the truth,” he told students.

Rika reminded students: “This is not happening in some African nation. It’s happening four hours [flying] from here in your backyard.

“It’s happening in a nation which you and your friends or relatives visit for its friendly people and sandy beaches. It’s happening in paradise.”

Holly Holmes is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student with the University of Queensland’s School of Journalism and Communication.

Full speech by Netani Rika on the Pacific Media Watch archive.

2 comments:

  1. Vote CT, 17. September 2009, 14:29

    There is definitely enough evidence to boot Fiji out of The Commonwealth. and the UN peace keeping Duties.
    As a member of FDM (Fiji Democratic Movement) one of our goal is the return of Democracy to my Country.
    This I believe can only be achieved now by HARD Sanctions,Expulsion from various International Orgs and possibly Intervention by Superpower.I have just returned from Fiji.. Bainimarama has dug in…
    One of his main sources of income is United Nations Peace keeping.
    Please let’s move… If you are really talking about change!!

     
  2. 53north, 18. October 2009, 9:32

    You said yourself in this article – there is low training and inexperience in policing / politics.
    Are sanctions & expulsions the best way forward every time a dominant Alpha male takes control. They haven’t worked anywhere where bleeding hearts and US style ‘democracy’ has been attempted, from the 10’s of interventions in Latin America, to the Middle East & Asia.
    Sell the regime Toyota Prius and buy their bananas… How difficult can it be?