Sunday, July 1, 2012

And so we have a new decree

No sooner did I post my last entry than word came down that the interim government had promulgated a new decree affecting the Fiji media. It's the Television Amendment Decree and it can be downloaded here. The main effect is to allow for the revocation of the licence of any television station that contravenes the Media Decree. Coming on the heels of the A-G's alleged stoush with Fiji TV, it is hard to believe that this new decree is unrelated. The A-G claims it is necessary to ensure that all television licensees comply with the Media Code of Ethics and Practice under the Media Decree. As I told Radio New Zealand, however, it does seem like a bit of double jeopardy. Not only are TV stations subject to fines for violating the Code of Ethics and to having their journalists thrown in prison, now they can be put out of business as well. That wouldn't apply to a newspaper or a radio station that violated the Media Decree. The other odd aspect of this decree is that it expressly prohibits recourse to the courts for appeal, which makes the minister's decision on licence revocation final, as I pointed out to Radio Australia. This is fairly unprecedented, I believe, as most regulatory decisions in other countries at least allow for an appeal to the courts or to Cabinet.

The Fiji Labour Party blasted the decree, asking if Fiji is becoming a "police state."
The FLP finds this absolutely abhorrent. “This shows that Fiji is regressing further into being an authoritarian State rather than moving towards democracy as promised by the regime,” said Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry. . . . Justice and fair play demand that an aggrieved party must have the right to seek legal redress against any action or policy of the State. Yet, the people of Fiji are being increasingly and systemically denied this fundamental right by a regime that does not hesitate to use ‘blackmailing’ tactics to silence all opposition by gagging the media.
The reaction on the blogs has been predictably furious, and the depth of the anger exhibited has been  unlike anything I have seen in my admittedly short time here. According to Fiji Democracy Now, this latest move is "draconian" and "totalitarian." Fiji Today called it "TV control (if not censorship)." But over at Coup 4.5 the reaction was downright murderous, not so much on the blog as in the comments, some of which even pointed to online recipes for bomb-making. This has been rightly denounced by the pro-regime blog Grubsheet and others. Meanwhile, fears for Fiji TV's licence renewal proved unfounded, as July 1 came and it was still on the air. Fiji Today had decried the uncertainty surrounding the licence renewal in light of the fact that Fiji TV is a publicly traded company. "In most countries the stock market would suspend trading if such a vital element of a listed companies business was not certain 24 hours before it must cease transmitting." Coup 4.5 even reported that Fiji TV was"making contingency plans to end its service at midnight this Saturday." That may have been true, but when Sunday came and Fiji TV's regular religious programming appeared, C4.5's credibility took another hit. Except that it did point out that the pressure on Fiji TV, real or imagined, gave an advantage to its competitor FBC, which just happens to be run by the A-G's little brother. Later that day, Coup 4.5 had an expose by Victor Lal, the exiled Fiji dissident now at Oxford, who claimed to have the inside scoop on the younger Khaiyum's appointment and on FBC's recent injection of $22 million in government assistance. 

Ah, fun and games! Let's see how this one plays out.

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