Report – By the Pacific Media Centre news desk
The leader of Fiji’s new National Federation Party, economist Professor Biman Prasad, has pledged to review the controversial media decree and pass a freedom of information law if it gains power in the September general election.
He has also called on Fijians to shed their fear and become involved in the election process.
“Our people are still afraid. Our youths are afraid. Our civil servants are afraid, our farmers are afraid, our women are afraid,” professor Prasad said in a speech at a party working meeting at Tamavua the weekend.
“Our businessmen are afraid. They are all afraid of participating actively in the campaign.”
Professor Prasad called on the Fiji government to “stop the threats, stop the victimisation, stop the intimidation of anyone – including media from participating and articulating their views” in the lead-up to the election.
“I call upon the people of this country and come out and be part of the election and campaign process.”
While the state privileges decree and the media decree remained in place, the 2014 general elections “cannot be free and fair – period”.
“The media decree with its heavy fines and penalties make it impossible for the country’s journalists to cover issues openly and without fear. It makes it impossible for us to project our messages to our people.”
He praised the country’s journalists who “in spite of these harsh restrictions are doing their best to keep our citizens informed”.
“To these journalists, let me say a big vinaka vakalevu. The stakes have rarely been higher and weight on your shoulders so heavy.
“The nation owes you its profound gratitude as you take real risks to help project our messages to Fiji citizens.”
Professor Prasad cited a paraphrased message from a regional media and elections training programme: “Freedom is when people can speak. Democracy is when government listens and the media is the messenger”.
He said the NFP did not fear the media.
“If the Bainimarama government has nothing to hide and if it has the moral courage to do the right thing, it should lift the media restrictions with immediate effect.
He said the NFP in government would “remove all of its unreasonable provisions including the fines and penalties”.
Professor Prasad also pledged to enact a Freedom of Information – “right to information” – bill.
“We no longer live in the dark ages where governments habitually kept secret, public information such as salaries paid to our leaders, and allowances they are paid on foreign junkets,” he said.