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10 July 2015: Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Biman Prasad to review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper

Note: The Motion was defeated in favour of the Government side with 17 Opposition Members voting in support of it, 26 Government Members opposing it, and 7 Members of Parliament not voting (absent at the time of the Vote).

View the results of the Vote here.


Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Biman Prasad to review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper. Please check against delivery.

Madam Speaker

I rise to move the following Motion: –
“That Parliament agrees that the Minister for Communication through Cabinet immediately review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper in conformity to Sections 17, 25, 26 & 32 of the Constitution”.

Madam Speaker, at the outset let me state that Government’s decision to exclusively advertise in The Fiji Sun violates Sections 17, 25, 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of all those employed at The Fiji Times and the people of Fiji.

These are the Right to Freedom of speech, expression and publication, Right to Access to Information (Section 25) Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation (Section 32). And I will explain why these rights are violated.

Madam Speaker, We strongly believe the rights of the Fiji Times as an organisation is violated, as it is locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry, which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution. Similarly the right of the people to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication, which primarily is freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas – under Section 17 of the Constitution.

Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17 (a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas, Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as right to work, economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.
Madam Speaker, There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its reader’s information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, but mostly in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, Only recently we have seen a few advertisements on the campaign to change the flag, a lift-out on Government’s consultation for development of a 5 year and 20 year plan and vacancies of the Auditor-General and Fiji Corrections Service Commissioner.

Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sun. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance. This was confirmed in 2010 by the then Government’s spokesman, a senior military officer ,who said in January 2010 that since 2009 all advertisements must be in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done.

But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it s imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayer funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information breaches the rights of the people and the newspaper.

However Madam Speaker, even after the return to democracy following last September’s general elections, government continues its exclusivity policy in terms of advertising.

I have in possession a copy of an e-mail sent by the Department of Information to Media Liaison Officers of all Ministries and Departments. The urgent e-mail dated 18th November 2014 is self-explanatory and I quote: –

”As per Cabinet decision on Government Department and Ministries advertising with the Fiji Times, please note that only the Permanent Secretary for Information on the advice of the Minister has the authority to approve Government Departments and Ministries to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Further, the approval by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary can only be made once the requesting Departments or Ministries has advised on the necessity and importance for wanting to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Please bring this to the attention of your senior colleagues, in particular your Corporate Department”. – Unquote

Clearly Madam Speaker, the decision to exclude the Fiji Times is not a cost-based decision, as the e-mail shows. It is unacceptable to the readers of the Fiji Times, easily the largest newspaper in terms of circulation (and this newspaper is not distributed free unlike its competitor), and to the people of Fiji that they are excluded from Government information, vacancies, tenders and other important information.

Madam Speaker, another example of Government clearly favouring the Fiji Suneven while responding to opinions expressed through the letters to the Editor column in the Fiji Times following a news report in the newspaper about Draunibota Bay development and its potential hazards to the environment, printed in April, attracted a Government response, only through the Fiji Sun. And that too in a paid advertisement by the Permanent Secretary for Local Government, Housing and Environment.

Madam Speaker, we have compiled a list of some 60 government ministries, departments and statutory organisations whose advertisements appear almost on a daily basis in the Fiji Sun and comprehensively on Saturdays.

They are: –
1. Ministry of Lands
2. Ministry of Public Enterprise
3. Ministry of Tourism
4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
5. Ministry of Justice
6. AG’s Chambers
7. Ministry of Energy
8. Ministry of Health
9. Ministry of Environment, Housing & Urban Dev.
10. Min for Women & Social Welfare
11. Min of Employment Productivity and Industrial Relations
12. Min of Education
13. Min of Defence National Security and Immigration
14. TLTB
15. Commerce Commission
16. Public Trustee of Fiji
17 Govt. Shipping Services
18. Govt. Statistician
19. Controller of Govt Supplies
20. Co-operatives Dept
21. MAFF
22. Fiji Military Forces
23. Dept. Information – Communication
24. Marine Dept
25. Min. of Trade & Industry
26. Min. of Finance
27. Min. of Labour
28. Min. of Education
29. Min of Local Government and Town and Country Planning
30. Water Authority of Fiji
31. Fiji Sugar Corporation
32. Airports Fiji Ltd
33. ATS Fiji Ltd
34. Fiji Hardwood Corp.
35. Fiji Museum
36. Fiji Ports Corp.
37. Fijian Property Trust Co. Ltd
38. Dept. of Legislature
39. Tropik Wood Industries Ltd.
40. Tourism Fiji
41. National Fire Authority
42. Housing Authority
43. Reserve Bank of Fiji
44. Post Fiji
45. Fiji Electricity Authority
47. Land Transport Authority
48. Prime Minister’s Office
49. Investments Fiji
50. Town Councils and Regional Authorities
51. Fiji Airways
52. Fiji Link
53. Legal Aid
54. President’s Office
55. Fiji Roads Authority
56. FNU
57. PSC
58. Technical College of Fiji
59. Dept. of Public Prosecution
60. Biosecurity of Fiji

Madam Speaker, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in its report on the petition not to re-zone Shirley Park (parliamentary paper 25 of 2015), discovered during its hearing that many people who appeared before the Committee were not aware of public announcements and advertisements on the issue. The Committee recommended that the responsible authorities must advertise notification of rezoning, objection periods, public consultations etc. through all available media outlets.

In the case of Lautoka’s Shirley Park, this was only advertised in the Fiji Sun. Even Parliament advertised the Standing Committee hearings in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, this blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice must cease.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far its newspaper advertising.

Madam Speaker, I commend this Motion to the House.

03 July 2015: Media Release – PM must tell the truth about travel ban

The indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizens Professor Brij Vilash Lal and Dr Padma Lal makes a mockery of Fiji’s democracy and the conduct of government. It is undeniably a breach of fundamental rights of two former Fiji citzens who are banished from the land of their birth for defending democracy, justice and human rights.

Following the latest decision by Minister for Defence, National Security and Defence Timoci Natuva, which was conveyed this week to Professor Lal by Deputy Immigration Director Edward Brown – three months after they were asked to re-apply if they wished to have the ban uplifted, the National Federation Party, which had access to every correspondence between Professor Lal, Immigration and Mr Natuva, can categorically state with conclusive evidence, that the decision to indefinitely ban Professor Brj Lal and Dr Padma Lal was made by the Office of the Prime Minister – not Minister Natuva or the Director of Immigration.

This is proven beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever after perusing media comments by Mr Natuva and email correspondence between Professor Lal and Mr Edward Brown (Deputy Director of Immigration).

Following Mr Natuva’s confirmation of the travel ban in Parliament on 18th March 2015 after being questioned by NFP Parliamentarian Hon Prem Singh, and in response to our media conference of 23rd March 2015, Mr Natuva, while responding to our statement confirmed through Fiji Village on 24th March “the decision to expel Professor Lal and Dr Lal was made after a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office to look into Professor Lal’s case”.

At the outset, while responding to Professor Lal’s application of 27th October 2014 for the ban to be uplifted following the successful conclusion of the general elections and the fact that travel ban on military officers as well as those who had accepted appointments in the regime following the December 2006 coup had been lifted by Australia and New Zealand, Mr Natuva said via email to Professor Lal on 24th November 2014, “I contacted Director Immigration and you are free to come to Fiji, however it is advisable that you contact the Director (Major Nemani Vuniwaqa) or Assistant Director (Edward Brown) on email for re-confirmation”. He provided Professor Lal with their email addresses.

Professor Lal then contacted Mr Edward Brown who on 15th December 2014 advised him:-

“The latest development into your case is that both you and your wife’s names are still appearing in our system and we have established that the instructions to put your names on our Controversial List had been given by the Prime Minister’s Office. As such we will be delivering a letter to that office tomorrow the 16th of December seeking their comments and endorsement that your names should no longer be on the list and that the both of you can now travel to Fiji.

Once we get a response from them we will then be in a position to advise you of whether you can travel to the country or not”.

Once again, it is abundantly clear that while Mr Natuva and the Immigration Department had no issues about Professor Lal and Dr Lal travelling to Fiji, they were powerless to lift the ban because instructions had come from the Prime Minister’s Office. The question then arises – who in the PM’s Office instructed Immigration to ensure the ban remained? Surely such a decision and that too a draconian one that overrides the authority of the Line Minister and the Immigration Department, cannot be made by a junior staff member!

Similarly, Mr Edward Brown informed Professor Lal via email in January and February this year that meetings were held on the issue but no decision had been reached. This is also confirmed from Mr Brown’s email to Professor Lal on 15th December 2014 when he says, “I will try and get a response from the PM’s Office as soon as I can and revert. I think it is best we get this clearance to avoid any unnecessary delays and attention when you do arrive”.

On 2nd April this year, following Mr Natuva’s comments that Professor Lal could re-apply, to have the ban lifted, both Professor Lal and Dr Lal duly did so. Fiji One News on 24th March reported Mr Natuva as saying that “in recent years 30 people staying abroad have been allowed back into the country after re-applying”. The applications are recommended by the Immigration Director to the line Minister”.

But this was not the case here. Can Mr Natuva as a matter of transparency and accountability inform the nation what was the recommendation of the Immigration Director? Given the evidence, the Immigration Department had no issues with Professor Lal.

Professor Lal was given 24 hours to leave Fiji in November 2009 after having been illegally arrested from his Suva Point Home and detained at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks for almost 3 hours. He was interrogated and subjected to verbal abuse by a senior military officer. He was told to leave Fiji within 24 hours otherwise his next trip to RFMF would have catastrophic consequences.

Professor Lal reluctantly left behind his wife Dr Padma Lal and departed for Australia the next day.

In January 2010, Dr Padma Lal was detained by authorities at Nadi Airport upon her arrival from Sydney. She had travelled to Australia for the festive season. At that time she was working for IUCN – an international organization looking at mangrove conservation and replanting in Fiji. She was detained overnight and forced to leave Fiji the next day.

Like many pro democracy activists, Professor Lal spoke in defence of democracy, freedom and human rights after the coup of December 2006. To say that he opposed moves towards restoration of democracy in Fiji is an insult to a person who is not only an eminent historian but was a member of Constitution Review Commission whose Report led to the formulation of the 1997 Constitution and ended Fiji’s isolation from the international community, particularly the Commonwealth.

It therefore is abundantly clear that Minister Natuva and the Immigration Department had no reason whatsoever to place Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal on the list of persons banned from entering the country. But they were powerless to do anything as their names were contained in a list provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Therefore Minister Natuva’s answer in Parliament that the ban was in accordance with the Immigration Act of 2003 is baseless.

Even more insulting is the fact that Professor Lal, who was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security. For his work on the Reeves Commission, he was awarded the Order of Fiji. In June he was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to education, through the preservation and teaching of Pacific history, as a scholar, author and commentator.

But the Fiji First Government is hounding him like a common criminal. This is insulting not only to Professor Lal and his wife, but to all right-thinking and law-abiding citizens and to the Indo-Fijian community whose historical background right from the days of indenture has been well researched and documented by Professor Lal.

Does it also mean that current and former Fiji citizens who are residing overseas who exercise their freedom of speech by making statements against the Government, will also be banned from entering Fiji?

Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji. The onus is on the Prime Minister to immediately rescind the ban to show that Government is a collective institution and not run on the whims of a few individuals.
Prof Biman Prasad

01 July 2015: Media Release – A Waste of Taxpayers’ Funds

The extension of a so-called consultation deadline till 31st December 2015 for the people of Fiji to submit their views on a proposed new flag for Fiji is a waste and abuse of taxpayers’ funds. This process must be abandoned immediately and a referendum held so that the people of Fiji are able to legitimately express their views on this issue.

And the Fiji First government must reveal as a matter of transparency and accountability the amount of taxpayers’ funds already used in this needless exercise.

The reality is that an overwhelming majority of the people, as reflected in the Tebbutt Poll want to have a direct say through a referendum on the issue – that is whether or not Fiji should have a new flag. It is as simple as this.

And the Fiji First Government must respect the wishes of the people and hold a referendum for the people to have their legitimate input on the issue. Anything less is unacceptable.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is fooling no one by saying there has been “unprecedented number of responses” on the issue of a new flag. And the extension of the consultation period is necessitated by this “unprecedented” outpouring of feedback.

Nothing can be further from the truth. The only thing unprecedented is the overwhelming rejection of the Fiji First government’s 23 designs and the fundamentally flawed manner in which it wants a new flag for Fiji.

This government is trying to unilaterally impose its will upon the nation against a massive tide of public opinion rejecting outright the process so far.

The PM and his government must not hide behind the mantra of mandate to enforce a process and at the end of it, a national symbol against the wishes of the people. The mandate to govern and democracy is not about riding roughshod over the wish of its citizens. This becomes critically important when it concerns an issue of national interest like the case of our flag, which has been the symbol of pride and patriotism for 45 years.

The legitimate process to determine if the flag needs to be changed, and what changes if any are required, is to respect the wish of 87% of our people and hold a referendum. If government’s proposed National Flag Bill stipulates a referendum with a threshold of 75% for their new flag, it is only fair that a referendum be held to determine whether the current flag really needs changes.

Anything less is a sham.
Prof Biman Prasad

25 June 2015: Media Release – Rising Liquidity not related to economic performance

A response to the Fiji Times Front Page.

Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor Barry Whitside’s claim that a rise in liquidity means a healthy economy and increasing investment is baseless.

A rise in liquidity is not necessarily a cause or effect of a healthy economy. Liquidity is not free. Are banks and the public’s overall holdings of reserves precautionary? Further, weaknesses in the financial infrastructure and in market forces could also be a potential contributor to an increase in liquidity. For instance, an increase in liquidity could be due to broader issues such as lack of collateral due to the structure of property rights.

Moreover, it is a natural outcome that if there is fixed exchange rate regime, then increase in foreign currency assets will increase domestic liquidity. In Fiji the exchange rate is fixed and the Reserve Bank of Fiji intervenes to offset upward pressure on its desired exchange rate. This intervention will be reflected in increasing flows of net foreign assets onto the central bank balance sheet.

The government and the Reserve Bank should answer more important questions in relation to the economy. These are as follows: –
(1) What is the state of employment and unemployment in Fiji right now? The statistics from the National Employment Centre shows increasing numbers of the unemployed in the country.
(2) How is the government going to deal with $500m required to make the debt repayment in 2016?
(3) What is the state of the revenue collection and are we on target to collect the revenue projected in the budget? What is the status of asset sales provided for in the budget for 2015?

Honest answers to the above questions are fundamental to assessing the health of the economy. The government and RBF ought to pay more attention to these fundamental issues rather than using a single indicator of liquidity to wrongly assess the health of the economy.

Prof Biman Prasad

26 May 2015: Media Release – Government must top up 4th cane payment

Government must top up the fourth cane payment to $15 per tonne of cane, which is due to be paid to cane farmers at the end of this week.

Government should direct the Fiji Sugar Corporation to top up the payment because the FSC’s line of credit with ANZ has been extended by another 5 years through parliamentary approval of a government guarantee of $120 million. FSC therefore is in a position to obtain short-term funding.

The total price paid so far for the 2014 harvesting and crushing season is $65.29 per tonne of cane. Both the Prime Minister and Fiji Sugar Corporation Chairman have stated the total price for last season would be around $73 per tonne of cane. This means a sum of almost $8 would be split between the 4th cane payment and the final payment in October, with bulk of this meagre amount to be paid in the 4th payment.

A $73 per tonne total payout for last season would mean a reduction of a little over $15 per tonne of cane paid to farmers for the 2013 season. The price paid to farmers was $88.49 including a special payment of $5 per tonne.

A reduction to $73 would mean a loss of $27 million to farmers in direct income. This will be massive and have an adverse impact on the livelihood of farmers as well as their capability to increase cane production because such a reduction would be extremely demoralizing.

A $15 top up to the fourth cane payment will boost the final expected price of $73 for last season to over $80 per tonne. That would leave the final payment and another top up will be necessary to ensure a minimum guaranteed price of $85 per tonne.

The National Federation Party has been repeatedly calling on government to implement a minimum guaranteed price of $85 per tonne for the next four years and this top up will instil confidence in farmers to increase cane production.

Increasing cane production is the prerequisite to the survival of the sugar industry and the livelihood of 200,000 people in the future. This is vital if we are to overcome the abolition of the European Union sugar production quota at the end of September 2017.

And simultaneously with a minimum guaranteed price, government should bite the bullet and accept the fact that unilaterally imposing solutions aimed at reviving the industry will fail. It needs a bi-partisan approach and collective will of every stakeholder. That is why a parliamentary committee on sugar is vital and we repeat our call to the Prime Minister to initiate moves for the committee’s formulation in the next scheduled sitting of parliament from 6th July.

We therefore request Government to direct the FSC to top up the 4th cane payment so that farmers are able to better and confidently prepare for the 2015 harvesting season.
Biman Prasad

15 May 2015: Motion To Repeal or Amend the Media Decree 2010: Friday, 15 May 2015 by NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad

Debate on Motion To Repeal or Amend the Media Decree 2010
Friday, May 15, 2015
By NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad
(Please Check Against Delivery)

Madam Speaker I rise to move the following motion: –

“That this Parliament supports a review or a repeal of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 to ensure Fiji has a free, fair and unfettered media industry in conformity to a modern democratic nation”

Madam Speaker, this is not a political motion but simply a necessity in a true and modern democracy.

Fiji’s future as a social, economic and politically stable nation cannot be guaranteed unless freedom of expression is enshrined through a free, fair and credible media.

We firmly believe, Madam Speaker, this is not pessimism but a reality.

The media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. For more than 5 years, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10th April 2009, have been turbulent and devastating for the media industry and media organisations.

The work of the media industry, especially after the start of the coup culture in 1987, has been remarkable, balanced, informative and impartial, except for a brief period after the 1987 coups.

However, Madam Speaker, the enforcement of media censorship under Public Emergency Regulations after April 2009 until January 2012 and the promulgation of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 has seriously undermined media freedom.

Media throughout the world is generally regarded as the Fourth Estate – the last line of defenders of democracy, human rights, dignity and justice.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”.

Madam Speaker, this freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times.

The Media Industry Development Decree is regressive and suppresses Media Freedom because it imposes restrictions and prescribes heavy penalties.

This Decree must either be repealed or amended substantially because we believe the media should not be regulated by the State or any Government.

Madam Speaker, the restoration of Parliamentary democracy has seen little change in the behaviour of large sections of our media and individual journalists – and there is a reason for this – it is not the choice of our media industry and journalists but a result of the severe penalties in the Decree that I will outline.

The Media Industry Development Authority is essentially an enforcer of Government’s agenda as far as the media is concerned. In January this year, the MIDA Chairman spoke about the need for focus to shift on freedom of expression and ethics. Words are mere rhetoric. The Decree renders freedom and ethics meaningless.

Madam Speaker, PART 2 of the Decree outlines the structure and functions of the Media Industry Development Authority. The minister appoints the chairperson and five other members, and can also remove them. This is an obvious and major conflict of interest.

Section 17 provides the Authority immunity from legal proceedings, civil or criminal.

While the media is bound by restrictive rules and regulations, the media authority can act with virtual impunity. Where is the balance and fairness government is preaching about? Where is the accountability, Madam Speaker?

Section 22 states content must not include material, which is (a) against the public interest or order; (b) against national interest; or (c) creates communal discord. This is a very broad provision open to interpretation by the government. It is like a noose around the media’s neck.

Madam Speaker, This provision is unnecessary because offences are already adequately covered under Crimes Decree, under the Public Order Act on racial and religious vilification, hate speech, and economic sabotage.

Part 5, covering enforcement of media standards, allows the Authority to force the disclosure of specified documents or information as well as the right to enter, search and confiscate documents. When it comes to breach of confidentiality, the standard practice in democracies is that it referred to the Courts, which rely on precedence, and can be expected, to come up with fair, impartial judgments.

But in Fiji Madam Speaker, this function has been usurped by MIDA, which is controlled by government through appointments made by the minister. This is yet another noose around the media’s neck.

Media Tribunal

PART 8 deals with the Media Tribunal, which consists of a Chairperson – a qualified judge appointed by the President on the advice of the Attorney General.

The Tribunal adjudicates complaints received from MIDA. It has to comply with the directions of the responsible Minister pertaining policy. The Tribunal also has to consider the Attorney General’s submissions during certain proceedings. It makes hearings vulnerable to political interference.

Madam Speaker, It increases the level of government control and pressure on the tribunal. This is by no means an independent tribunal. It is tied to government in too many ways. It may not be happening but this provision is unethical and not transparent.

Part 10 details the powers of the Tribunal, including ordering fines of up to $100,000 against media companies; $25,000 against publishers/editors and $1,000 against other media employees as monetary compensation to complainants. Upon conviction for any breaches of the media code, a media organisation could be fined $100,000; a publisher/editor $25,000 and/or two years imprisonment; and a journalist or media $1000 and/or two years imprisonment.

Madam Speaker, this is unnecessary, especially when we have defamation laws in place. It’s an example of a duplicitous and tricky legislation – a waste of time and resources. Such payouts can ruin media companies and journalists. To protect themselves, journalists and media companies resort to self-censorship. This is a fact.

Madam Speaker, Media organisations can challenge decisions in the Court of Appeal, but only for awards in excess of $50,000. Media workers have no such options, even though the awards can lead to financial ruin in a sector where salaries are low compared to other professions. While the defendants have little recourse, complainants or the Authority can challenge Tribunal decisions in the Court of Appeal. This is another example of the lopsided and one-sided legislation.

Madam Speaker, we have heard in the past of Government justifying the media decree on social, economic and political stability. However, all that these restrictive provisions have done is push opposition views into anonymous online media platforms, where they have re-emerged in more extreme forms.

People have lost faith in the mainstream news media. Instead, they are relying on blogs, where people are posting comments, some of which are full of rumours, misinformation, incitement to racial violence, and so on.

We believe this misguided media policy espoused through the Decreeis to be partly blamed for this sorry state of affairs. Therefore, the media decree has done nothing for social stability.


Madam Speaker, there is a requirement that all news stories have to be balanced otherwise they can’t be published. This is a further sign of legislation simply gone mad. This provision has simply become a loophole to evade media scrutiny by not responding to media questions.

But Madam Speaker, if a story is positive towards the government, this requirement is ignored without consequence. What we are saying is that the media decree is open to abuse by the State. There are countless examples of this and it is pointless to give them. But it is the reality.

Madam Speaker, every international organisation of repute has expressed concern about the regressive and draconian provisions of this Decree. Allow me to give a few examples, Madam Speaker.

Human Rights Watch (a nongovernmental human rights organisation) said: “Media Decree forbids publications that are against public interest or order, restricts foreign media ownership, and imposes heavy penalties”

Reporters Without Borders (a France based non-profit organization which has consultant status at the United Nations and UNESCO) said: “Revoke the Media Industry Development Decree and its draconian punitive measures against journalists, editors and media organisations and adopt self-regulatory media framework encouraging a free press”.

Madam Speaker, The International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) (world’s largest organization of journalists. First established in 1926, currently, it represents around 600, 000 members in more than 100 countries): It says:- “The IFJ is extremely worried that the decree allows the authority and tribunal that it would set up to have the power to call for any documentation, to enter media offices, to seize materials and equipment. It’s extremely worrying that the decree allows for fines of up to about $A300, 000 and or prison of up to five years for a range of offences.”

Freedom House, Madam Speaker, (an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world): “Violations of the vaguely worded “public interest” or “public order” provisions of the decree are punishable by a fine of up to FJ$1,000 (US$572) or imprisonment of up to two years for journalists; the penalty for any media company that breaches the decree may be as high as FJ$100,000 (US$57,200). In addition, it overrides traditional checks and balances by forbidding the judiciary to challenge the decree or the institutions established by it”.

Madam Speaker, Genuine democracy, equal citizenry, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, which are ethics being paraded by Government, can only be achieved through a free, fair, credible and non-regulated media.

I commend this Motion to Parliament.

13 May 2015: Parliament Update

Tomorrow in Parliament, 4 Bills will be tabled for the First Reading. Members of the Opposition have been given notice that 2 of the Bills will be fast-tracked as per the provision granted in Standing Order 51.

The 4 Bills are:
(i) A Bill for an Act to make provision for the National Flag of the Republic of Fiji and to provide for its use and protection. (4/2015)

(ii) A Bill for an Act to declare the Coat of Arms of the Republic of Fiji and to make provision for its use. (5/2015)

(iii) A Bill for an Act to provide for the regulation of Rotuman affairs and for related matters. (6/2015)

(iv) A Bill for an Act to provide for a lands commission in Rotuma, to provide for the registration of Rotumans, to regulate the registration, dealing with and transmission of land and related matters. (7/2015)