**Updates IFEX alerts of 1 February, 26 January, 12 January, 7 January 2000 and others**
(PINA/IFEX) - On 7 February 2000, Fiji Islands news media reported on attempts to get readers to boycott Fiji's biggest newspaper, "The Fiji Times", claiming it is against Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. "The Fiji Times" published details of e-mail messages seeking funds to print leaflets asking the public not to read the 130-year-old daily newspaper. Later in the day Radio Fiji reported that the leaflets are being distributed.
"The Fiji Times" reported that e-mail messages sent to workers at the country's main international airport asking for funds for the campaign said that the newspaper: "everyday ... in some way or another tries to malign our prime minister". It identified the sender of the e-mail messages as a trade unionist working at the airport. Chaudhry, whose Fiji Labour Party leads a coalition government, was for many years a prominent trade unionist.
There have been continuing tensions between the government and the country's independent news media, especially "The Fiji Times", since Chaudhry came to power in general elections in May 1999. Chaudhry has claimed news media elements are trying to "destabilise" his government. He has begun defamation actions against journalists and threatened a government-imposed media tribunal. The government has refused to renew the work permit of the expatriate editor-in-chief of "The Fiji Times". It has also ordered all government advertising be placed in "Fiji's Daily Post", in which it is the main shareholder (see IFEX alerts).
"The Fiji Times", which is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has rejected allegations of conspiracies against the government. It said it is covering the present government the same way it covered the previous government. "The Fiji Times" is a previous winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of Information award for its defence of freedom of expression and the public's right to know. PINA president William Parkinson called Chaudhry's threats of media legislation a "disgrace" and "unbecoming of a prime minister of a supposedly democratic country."
The Fiji Islands has amongst the most diverse and free news media in the Pacific Islands. They include: three seven-day-a-week English-language daily newspapers; weekly newspapers in Hindi, Fijian, and English; news, business, trade and entertainment magazines; independent commercial, community and religious radio stations; government-owned public and commercial radio stations; and commercial and community television.