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Pina Blasted Over Media Freedom

Pina Blasted Over Media Freedom

* See PMW items 2776, 2772, 2770, 2741, 2740, 2739, 2738, 2737, 2735. Fiji TV May 29 Close-Up transcript:

SUVA (PMW): The Pacific Islands News Association was bitterly attacked today in the letters column of the Fiji Sun for its alleged "silence" over violations of media freedom by rebel leader George Speight and his supporters during the month-old Fiji political crisis.

The regional media organisation PINA and its president William Parkinson, managing director of Communications Fiji Ltd group which owns FM96 in Fiji and broadcasting interests in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, were accused of having "lost your tongue" following earlier condemnation of the captive Mahendra Chaudhry government.

A "Jim C Smith", of the NLTB subdivision in the capital Suva, an apparent strong supporter of the elected government held hostage by the Speight rebels in Parliament since May 19, said: "Where is your concern about media freedom now?

"Now that you have achieved your aim of toppling the People's Coalition Government and our media freedom has really been attacked, you remain silent.

"Now that we are seeing what George Speight and his terrorist group think of freedom of the media, you have lost your tongue.

"George Speight and his thugs are wreaking havoc and creating fear by trashing Fiji TV, and threatening local and foreign journalists.

"And yet the president of the leading organisation concerned about freedom of the media in the Pacific says nothing."

The correspondent said that media freedom was a "useful gimmick" as long as it served the president "and his cronies - certainly not the interests of the majority of the people in Fiji and the Pacific.

"And least of all the interests of the hostages and their families."

The correspondent contrasted PINA's current role with the stance taken during the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government's period in office from May 1999 until the attempted coup.

"We heard from you often enough in your denunciation of the People's Coalition Government when [it] tried to localise positions of foreign-owned/controlled media outlets in Fiji, improve wages and working conditions of journalists, and provide more training for local journalists so that they could do a more professional job with their stories rather than pushing the bosses' line," he said.

However, the correspondent appeared to be unaware of recent statements made by PINA about the crisis.

PINA/IFEX statements include the following which received wide coverage:

* May 25: Misreporting by "parachute journalists" from abroad was condemned and local reporting praised.

* May 31: The resumption of broadcasts by Fiji Television after being attacked by the Speight mob on May 29 was reported along with a condemnation by PINA of the attack.

In addition, Parkinson participated in the controversial Close-Up programme about media coverage of the crisis on Fiji Television. This panel discussion was critical of Speight and the rebels and led to the attack on Fiji TV that night.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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