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Silence in paradise

By Netani Rika - posted Monday, 31 August 2009

On television recently there was a huge marketing campaign attempting to draw visitors to Fiji.

Over the course of about two hours a series of advertisements found their way into Australian homes, portraying Fiji as an excellent destination where people are friendly and there is plenty of sea, the sand and sun.

Yesterday, a colleague showed me a piece on Fiji written by a blogger - an Australian national and former television presenter - who visited my country not long ago.


She described the current ruler of Fiji - Commodore Frank Bainimarama - as being not so bad after all. Indeed, she suggested that as far as dictators go, Bainimarama is probably the best around.

Dictatorships are, perhaps, exercises in relativity.

Fiji’s dictatorship is better, relative to Idi Amin’s in Uganda in the 1970s and 1980s or the rule of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in the same period. But a dictatorship is - purely and simply - illegal.

Earlier this year the the Appeals Court in Fiji ruled that the removal of Laisenia Qarase’s government by the army and its shadowy group of supporters was illegal. The three judges declared not only that the takeover was illegal but that the President appoint a caretaker prime minister to lead Fiji to democratic elections within a suitable time frame.

Hours after the judgment was handed down, the interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, agreed on national television to abide by the ruling and uphold the law. The next day he was reappointed by the President - this time to head an interim government of the same people who had lead Fiji prior to the declarations of the court. Immediately, a Public Emergency Regulation was put in place to ensure that there would be no opposition to Bainimarama’s regime.

In a nutshell the regulation prohibits public gatherings for the purpose of political meetings and, under Section 16, stops the media from broadcasting or printing material which may incite the people to do so.


This rule gives the Permanent Secretary wide-ranging and arbitrary powers to decide what may cause incitement. There is no requirement for this public servant to declare why the decision has been made to prevent a particular news item from being made public.

On the afternoon of Bainimarama’s return to power, the Permanent Secretary for Information told news editors that as part of the regulation, each media organisation would be allocated a censor and that each censor would be accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes. The police officer - we were told - was to protect the censor. We were not told from whom the censor would need protection.

In Fiji it is often the case that rules can change from day to day without warning or explanation. As days and weeks passed, the number of censors increased, as did the number of police officers.

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This article is based on an address given by the author to the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland, Brisbane on Wednesday, August 26, 2009.

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About the Author

Netani Rika is Editior in Chief of The Fiji Times

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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