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FIJI: Military authorities pledge media freedom

SUVA (PMW): Fiji's martial law authorities have pledged that they will honour a free media in the Pacific country in spite of the political stand-off over the three-week-old hostages crisis, according to radio reports.

Radio Fiji reported today that the military administration of Commodore Frank Bainimarama which declared martial law on May 29 had made the promise.

However, both the state-run Radio Fiji and private FM96 were reported to have received threats from an anonymous caller through the military late yesterday afternoon, according to the Fiji Times.

The newspaper said that Radio Fiji chief executive Sireli Kini had confirmed the warning from the military authorities.

"The caller had said that both the FBC [Fiji Broadcasting Corporation which owns Radio Fiji] and FM96 were under threat," Kini said.

The military's spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini, directed questions regarding the threat to the operations centre.

According to Lieutenant Semi Koroi at the centre, the call was received by FBC's general manager-public broadcasting, Francis Herman, who then informed the army.

"There was no extra deployment to the area except that those on duty were more alert," Lt Koroi told the newspaper.

The Fiji Times reported Communications Fiji Ltd's managing director William Parkinson as saying his radio station had not received any threats.

However, the Fiji and foreign news media have faced several tense incidents in the past three weeks as rebel leader George Speight and his gunmen still hold former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 30 of his elected government members prisoner in Parliament.

They include:

* May 31: The staff of Communications Fiji Ltd were evacuated by military and police officers following bomb threats. The radio station had faced several threats over previous days.

* May 29: Military authorities declared martial law and took over executive authority. However, this did not "chill" most media which has continued to publish and broadcast unfettered.

* May 29: the 12-nation University of the South Pacific's journalism programme website Pacific Journalism Online was barred by university authorities over fears for campus security following the attack on Fiji TV. USP journalism established a new temporary site at an Australian university to break the censorship.

* May 28: Fiji Television offices were raided and trashed by up to 200 armed supporters of rebel leader Speight. Transmission by the station was cut for almost 48 hours. The attack followed the broadcast of a Close-Up current affairs programme focusing on media coverage in which Speight was described as a "two-day wonder" who did not have majority support among indigenous Fijians.

* May 27: A British journalist, Jerry Harmer, of Associated Press Television News (APTN), was wounded on the lower arm during a skirmish involving shots between Fiji government forces and rebel gunmen when supporters of Speight attempted to seize barbed wire barricades and crocodile teeth vehicle traps. Two soldiers were also wounded in the same incident.


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