GOVERNMENT TO ENACT FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL
On 3 February, the Fiji Islands government announced that it intends to pass proposed freedom of information bills in the next six months, reports the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). The result of a 1996 review of all media legislation in Fiji commissioned by the previous government, the proposed freedom of information bill would replace the Official Secrets Act and Press Correction Act from British colonial times. The legislation would grant the public the right "to correct errors in information about them held by the government." The government would also be required to publish information on the functions of its various agencies, and PINA reports that "the ombudsman may also be given the responsibility to review the government's information practices." Attorney-General Anand Singh, who made the announcement, stated that the laws will be based partly on Australian and New Zealand's freedom of information acts. The freedom of information law would apply to "all government ministries, departments and offices.... [except] the indigenous-Fijian Bose Levu Vakaturaga (council of chiefs), the president and his office, government-owned businesses, the court system, and commissions of inquiry," says PINA.
The move comes despite the continued criticism of the media by Prime Minister and Minster of Information Mahendra Chaudhry, since Chaudhry's Fiji Labour party-led coalition was elected in May 1999. On 27 October 1999, Chaudhry threatened to introduce a "government-regulated media tribunal with powers to impose penalties on the media." Most recently, Chaudhry is suing two groups of publishers and journalists for defamation. One of the newspapers being sued, "The Fiji Times", is a past winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of Information award "for its defence of freedom of expression and the public's right to know."