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Fiji - World Report 2009

80 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 18,274 sq. km.
-  Population: 944,720
-  Languages: English, Fijian and Hindi
-  Head of government: Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama, since December 2006

The country, run by the military since the December 2006 coup, is gradually sinking into dictatorship. Privately owned media are surviving but are forced to submit to censorship and government pressure.

The military government tolerates the media as long as they do not criticise its administration of the country and particularly its political legitimacy. As a return to democracy is constantly postponed, there has been targeting of editors of publications and foreign journalists working in Fiji, three of whom have been forcibly expelled since 2007.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo in April 2009, under the influence of the country’s strongman Rear Admiral Bainimarama, repealed the Constitution and announced the setting up of a “new legal order”. Soldiers and information ministry personnel took up positions inside newspaper, television and radio premises to control news content. The authorities said their 30-day mission was to prevent publication of news “likely to provoke disorder”. Two journalists were arrested and three foreign reporters were told to leave the country. A New Zealand journalist said after his expulsion that the Fiji media was coming under “very heavy pressure” from the government.

The media have not taken this unprecedented prior censorship lying down. Editions of the Fiji Times have appeared with numerous blank spaces and a message reading, “the stories on this page could not be published because of government restrictions”. The leading television channel also refused to put out its news programme because of censorship.

The rear admiral and his subordinates have no hesitation in threatening media and Internet users, accusing them of lack of “patriotism”. Criticism on the Internet is often more trenchant, but here too the army faithful are on the lookout and several representatives of civil society have been arrested or threatened for their posts.

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