17 April 2009 The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today voiced grave concern over the crackdown on the media in Fiji after the country’s leadership scrapped its Constitution and declared a state of emergency last week.
According to new regulations in the South Pacific archipelago nation, editors are not allowed to publish or broadcast any material that shows the military in an unfavourable light, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a press release.
UNESCO said that sensitive stories must also be approved by Government officials, and publication and media organizations ignoring these directives may be shut down.
“I am gravely concerned about press freedom in Fiji,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, echoing earlier remarks made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Urging the authorities to allow open debate to find lasting solutions to the country’s difficulties, Mr. Matsuura stressed that the basic right to “freedom of expression, which underpins press freedom, is essential for democracy, good governance and rule of law.”
He warned that “depriving people of news and information about events that affect them only breeds fear and suspicions. Such measures will not promote a solution to the nation’s social and political problems.”
A state of emergency was issued by President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda on 10 April. As a result, all judges and magistrates were removed, along with others who had been appointed under the Constitution.
The move came on the heels of the 9 April Court of Appeals ruling that the appointment of the Interim Government by the President following the 2006 coup was illegal. In its decision, the Court also advised Mr. Iloilovatu Uluivuda to appoint a neutral caretaker as Prime Minister to aid in holding parliamentary elections.
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