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Fiji 17 July 2008

Threat to press freedom from proposed new media law

Reporters Without Borders fears the consequences for press freedom of a proposed media law drafted by the military-led interim government and voices its support for Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte, who has condemned the proposal. The new law would create a tribunal to hear appeals on complaints lodged with the council.

"The Media Council is a respected regulatory body and if you wanted to undermine it, this would be the best way," Reporters Without Borders said. "After expelling several independent newspaper editors, the government is yet again betraying the undertakings it gave to respect press freedom."

The government said in a statement today that, at the request of the prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, it intended to draft a new law to consolidate all of the existing laws relating to the media. The new law would also create a new special tribunal with power to impose fines on the media.

The government has proposed consultations with the media about the new law while Tarte has summoned an urgent meeting of the Media Council. In an interview for Radio Australia, he accused the government of misleading the media by promising to defend their independence while secretly preparing legislation to reinforce its control.

The attorney general today denied that the military-led government, which took power in a December 2006 coup, wanted to control the media.

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