The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns the media blackout that started today ahead of the Fijian elections on Wednesday, September 17, and said the media in Fiji must be free to report the next few critical days if the interim government is serious about the country’s return to a democratically-elected system of government.
The media blackout, which bans all political advertising on radio and television and requires all campaign posters to be taken down, also bars any story relating to the election to be vetted by the country’s media authority.
“This is a gross violation on the freedom of the media ahead of one of the most pivotal election in Fiji’s history,” IFJ acting director, Jane Worthington said.
“This ban not only stifles the all-important job of local media to inform the public, it also extends to foreign media covering the poll and even bars residents from discussing political viewpoints on social media.”
The media blackout, which started at 7.30 am local time, was introduced to allegedly allow to voters to make their own decision on who to vote for without undue influence or pressure. This includes reports, stories, opinion pieces, advertisements and even social media. Foreign journalists also come under the media blackout, and cannot report on the election if the material they publish can be accessed by Fijians.
Violations of the blackout include punishments of $50,000 or ten years imprisonment. The only information regarding the elections that can be reported is electoral activity such as official statements and messages from the Fijian Electoral Commission.
The elections on Wednesday will be the first in Fiji since Commodore ‘Frank’ Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a military coup in 2006. Last week, two journalists received death threats after their reports that SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu Kepa pulled out of a live television debate with interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
The IFJ Asia Pacific Acting Director Jane Worthington said: “The media blackout makes the dangerous assumption that freedom of expression and freedom of access to information can be switched on and off. The democratic process should not hidden, free from scrutiny and analysis. The community should be treated with respect. People have the right to know exactly how their political leaders are elected and should be entrusted with more information, not less.”
“As Fiji goes into this significant election, we call on Fiji's Media Industry Development Authority to respect the role of the media and the right to free expression in Fiji and allow them to go about the important task of documenting this juncture in the country’s political history.”