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Fiji Police force TV to delay 'forum'

Fiji Police force TV to delay 'forum'

* Pacific Media Watch Online: * Post a comment on PMW's Right of Reply:


SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): Police threats to arrest media people and personalities involved in a "leaders forum" current affairs programme for broadcast by Fiji Television have forced the country's sole station to postpone the item, media reports say.

Police arrived in force on the morning of 22 February 2001 at a suburban resort hotel for the pre-recorded broadcast expected to be shown as a special edition of the Close-Up current affairs programme in the evening.

The Close-Up edition was organised to coincide with a landmark Court of Appeal hearing on the validity of the 1997 multiracial constitution. The four-day hearing ended later in the day after closing statements from both sets of lawyers.

FijiLive website quoted Fiji TV chief executive officer Kenneth Clark as saying the episode had been postponed because speakers who arrived did not represent a wide cross section of the community.

Only six of the 23 panelists, including trade unionists, appeared at the hotel in the seaside suburb of Lami.

Clark also said the station - which was attacked by supporters of coup leader George Speight last May over an earlier Close-Up programme - would need to apply for a permit to hold the forum outside their Gorrie Street studio in Suva.

Police described the leaders' forum as a "political gathering" which would be illegal without a permit.

Fiji TV confirmed that if it gained authorisation, it would record the programme over the next few weeks.

According to Pacnews, truckloads of police officers swarmed into the resort an hour before the forum was scheduled to begin.

Police then warned television employees and guests that they would arrest all of them once the forum got underway.

Pacnews reported that the television company announced about an hour later that the forum would not go ahead citing "technical difficulties".

According to Pacnews, Fiji TV executives had defended the forum as part of their news and current affairs programme, saying it could not be labelled a political meeting requiring a permit.

Radio Fiji reported that many leaders invited to speak at the forum did not turn up at the resort.

A pro-democracy businessman Mick Beddoes, organiser of the Fiji Blue campaign, condemned the police action, saying the threat was part of the authorities' intimidation tactics.

Meanwhile, some sectors of the news media have come in for criticism from the court. One daily newspaper, the Fiji Sun, has twice been directed by the court to publish corrections.

Queen's Counsel Geoffrey Robertson, the British human rights lawyer who argued the case for Indo-Fijian internal refugee farmer Chandrika Prasad, was critical of the reliability of press reports.

When asked by the court about recent statements by military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama in the media, Robertson replied: "I tend to discount press reports. Press reports in Fiji, especially in the Fiji Times, are not evidence."

* Link to transcript of controversial Close-Up programme on the night Fiji Television was trashed on 28 May 2000 by supporters of coup leader George Speight.



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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Media Watch at: E-mail: Fax: (+679) 30 5779 or (+612) 9660 1804 Mail: PO Box 9, Annandale, NSW 2038, Australia or, c/o Journalism, PO Box 1168, Suva, Fiji New website:


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