High price of freedom for Fijians

  • From: The Advertiser
  • July 03, 2010 2:13AM

FREEDOM is not free. The right to live as we choose, to decide our own future, lifestyle and government is the result of centuries of hard-won victories over the efforts of the powerful to restrict freedom rather than enhance it.

So it is in Fiji, that South Pacific island nation which for too long now has been under the thumb of a military-backed regime that has denied its people their basic rights.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who led the 2006 coup that ousted the elected government, has sought to rule by censorship, intimidation and fear.

Now, in his latest shameful attack on his country’s freedoms, he has introduced a new and pernicious law designed to kill off any independent journalistic scrutiny.

The Media Industry Development Decree will force all local media companies to be 90 per cent owned by Fijians.

The impact will, most likely, be the end of one of the region’s longest-running newspapers, the Fiji Times , founded in 1869.

It is owned by News Limited, also the publisher of this newspaper.

The Fiji Times , its editors and its brave Fijian reporters, have sought in the face of bullying, threats and censors in their newsroom to keep the people of Fiji informed about what is really going on in their country.

At times, to make a point, the paper has been published with white space where articles would have run had they not been excised by the regime.

Now this new law will not only force foreign owners out but impose the threat of hefty fines and five-year jail terms for journalists whose articles are deemed by the regime to be against public interest or order, the national interest, good taste, decency or which create communal discord.

In other words, anything the government doesn’t like.

And – as in other dictatorial regimes such as Myanmar and North Korea – one thing the government does not tolerate at all is criticism.

The new law is a particularly heavy blow to the 180 staff of the Fiji Times who have laboured under enormous stress to continue bringing their readers the news that is important.

In circumstances we would struggle to understand, they have endured bullying, the prospect of deportation, jail, and thuggery just to do their jobs.

These are ordinary men and women, mostly Fijians, doing extraordinary work.

They have not tried to be vindictive or sensational in their reporting.

They simply have been committed to their jobs – to keep their readers informed, and when possible, the government accountable.

So while it is wrong-headed, anti-democratic, and will ultimately prove to be self-defeating, it is unsurprising the coup leaders have taken this option.

A free media is one of the greatest bulwarks against tyranny.

It is why the Americans made the First Amendment to the US Constitution one which protects the right of the press, and the individual, to free speech.

It is why Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

The new law is against the interests of Fiji, and ultimately it is Fijians who will be the losers from this latest blow to their rights and freedoms.

But it will not endure.

Freedom is not free but as history shows, men and women have always been prepared to pay its price.



  1. Rob Says:

    All positive development of human society has freedom of speech at its core. Even oppressive communist regimes such as the PRC’s have understood that and continuously aim to accommodate free speech as much as an oppressive regime can. Frank’s media muzzle will eventually collapse the Fijian economy. It will be death by 1000 cuts: no foreign investment, less tourists, depression and obstruction in the society, civil disobedience, international isolation, reduction in foreign aid etc, etc. Perhaps unknowingly, Frank has signed into law his own demise.

  2. Fictional Notion Says:

    Maybe it is time we start terrorising his family in NZ
    Maybe we should send in the mongrol mob to his daughters

    Can I have their address please

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