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Fiji: Behind The Tapa Curtain

  • April 21st, 2009
  • Posted by 7thmin

dorney-document-resize.jpgMedia in Fiji are under intimidation and the military regime “doesn’t care” about pressure from Australia, the EU or other outside forces, according to the evicted Australian correspondent, Sean Dorney, (picture; with Fiji deportation order).

His comments backed up widespread condemnation of the regime’s attack on the right to free mass media. 


Global condemnation followed the Easter “coup within a coup”, when the military regime of Commodore V. (Frank) Bainamarana suspended the constitution and fired all judges.

fi-ji-coup.jpgIt had just been declared illegal by the country’s Court of Appeal.

Sean Dorney of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was deported (15.4.09) along with two New Zealand journalists, and has since been in heavy demand for his commentaries on the state of the Pacific country.

Such exposure might not help with applications to be re-admitted to Fiji, which the ABC has undertaken to make on a weekly basis, but he sees that as not making a lot of difference.

“To have a look at what’s going on inside the man’s mind; look at speeches by Bainamarama on the government website,” he said today.

“It’s all about ‘I know what’s best; no change; you’ve got to work for Fiji; don’t be disloyal’

“Journalists are trying to be loyal to Fiji, but it’s about being loyal to him …

“The European Union pulled out hundreds-of-millions of dollars supporting the restructure of the sugar industry; the industry is in a state of collapse, but he doesn’t care”.


Dorney echoed concerns about arbitrary controls imposed on media, being expressed by outside agencies, like the Brussels-based International Federation  of Journalists (IFJ), (see below).

In Suva an Army Major charged with censoring media has demanded “positive” treatment of government actions, in a “journalism of hope”, and placed soldiers in the news rooms.

He has directly threatened to close down newspapers running blank pages in place of censored articles, or resorting to satire.

“He can shut down any media business if they don’t do exactly as they day”, Sean Dorney told an audience at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Individual local journalists were at immediate personal risk.

“It’s alright for us to get on a plane and get out of there, but there are some brave journalists in Fiji,” he said.

“My concern was that if they had handed me over to the military I could have been beaten up, as people have died in custody since 2000.

“I know journalists have been taken to the military barracks and had guns put to their heads, over the last two years”.


fiji-tapa.jpgFailure of the military government of Fiji to keep to its undertakings, to the Pacific forum countries, or the EU, for example on  when it would hold elections, could start its isolation.

Where news media crowded in to the country at the time of the coup d’etat in 2000, in 2009, only three outside correspondents were there.

“If I was Bainamarama I would worry about that,” said Sean Dorney.

Attempts to get news out of Fiji through private channels like web logs (blogs) were being  hampered by government moves  to close down sites, and a welter of rumours  taking over from news –  mostly anti-government, dangerous to the regime itself.

“With censorship, far worse will come out if they don’t allow journalists to do their jobs”, he said.


The General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, detailed transgressions against the Fiji media is a statement

“Press freedom in Fiji is in tatters. The repressive actions taken against Fiji’s media at the weekend give the lie to promises by the military government throughout the past year that it would support press freedom and media professionalism as essential components of the country’s return to democratic rule.

“Now, the draconian and reprehensible manner in which the military leadership is seeking to control information about highly significant events and issues in Fiji is comparable to the actions of other dictatorial regimes and closed societies, including Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe….

“Under 30-day Public Emergency Regulations, journalists are now required to submit ‘sensitive’ news reports to government officials for approval. Media organisations could be shut down if official directives are ignored.

“The IFJ is extremely concerned about the impacts of denying information to people in Fiji and the well-being of media personnel who seek to do their jobs amid a climate of fear and persecution …

“The IFJ joins journalists and media organisations throughout the region …  demanding that the Bainimarama regime immediately end all restrictions on Fiji’s news media and allow local and foreign journalists to do their jobs in the public interest.

“The crisis in Fiji follows more than a year of systematic and increasingly severe efforts by the military leadership to silence independent reporting by local and foreign media personnel and commentary by members of the public who dare to question the regime’s legitimacy.

“Anti-media actions have included deportations of publishers and editors, refusal of entry to foreign media personnel, police searches of newsrooms, contempt of court rulings, and public comments by military officers suggesting critical media must be shut down.

“Safety concerns have increased since a firebomb attack by unknown assailants on the home of the editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, Netani Rika, on March 23. The bomb failed to ignite.”


In Australia and New Zealand 43 journalists and journalism educators distributed the following statement (15.4.09).

“Soldiers and police have no place in any newsroom.

“We oppose the Fiji dictatorship’s attempts to control our colleagues by threats, intimidation and censorship.

“We call on our governments to seek to protect all Fiji journalists striving to perform their duties in these difficult circumstances.

“As journalists and educators we affirm Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“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 any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“We strongly support our esteemed Australian colleague, Sean Dorney and other foreign journalists who have been expelled from Fiji because they sought the truth in the public interest.”


Wikipedia, Tapa cloth., (21.4.09).

IFJ, Brussels, “IFJ demands Fiji regime reverse media clampdown”, 14.4.09., (21.4.09).


Sean Dorney with Fiji deportation notice, 21.4.09, Frank Bainimarama, Fijian tapa cloth (Wikipedia).