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Minister Hits Back At Fiji Publishers

SUVA (PMW): Fiji's Assistant Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi has hit back at two prominent publishers in Fiji, rejecting their warnings against government imposing regulations on the press.

The publishers of Islands Business news magazine and the Fiji Times daily newspaper had said in a Media Freedom Day message published by the Fiji Times on 4 May 2000 that while the Fiji Islands enjoyed media freedom, it would be a grave mistake to impose regulations to muzzle it.

Islands Business publisher Robert Keith-Reid said the press was free from restrictions and the situation seemed likely to continue.

"But it would be a grave mistake to impose licensing because the first indicator that potential investors look for in a country is whether media organisations are free to report on issues.

"Licensing would be a poor reflection on Fiji and on investor worthiness," he said.

Fiji Times publisher Alan Robinson said his newspaper had faced problems with the previous government as well as the current one.

"But the relationship with the current government [led by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry] is far more hostile and vindictive," he said.

In a letter published in the Fiji Times on May 6, Minister Vayeshnoi said: "The government has made it clear that it has no intention of controlling the media.

"Neither has the government threatened to appoint its own media council.

"The proposed media legislation os the result of the Thomson Foundation report which recommended the establishment of an independent Media Council and Code of Ethics and Practice," wrote Vayeshnoi.

"As already announced, the media will be consulted on the proposed media legislation during the drafting process, which is now in its initial stages.

"The warning by the two publishers is uncalled for as the government upholds the right of the press to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in our constitution."

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