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Fiji Islands prime minister, news media clash again

(PINA/IFEX) - On 15 August 1999, Fiji Islands Prime Minister Mahendra
Chaudhry accused "elements in the media" of trying to destabilise his new
government, the news media reported. The "Sunday Post" quoted Chaudhry as
giving as an example the debate about his new government's plan to introduce
a national minimum wage. He told a convention of his Fiji Labour Party:
"Even before government could initiate dialogue on this, certain elements in
the media, who are no doubt there to protect the interests of the
establishment, began a campaign to distort and discredit government's policy
on this, stirring up all sorts of hysteria on what we plan to do." Chaudhry
was quoted as saying groups are fighting to hold on to their power bases
behind "abstract notions" such as media freedom and freedom of expression.

**For background on cases involving the media and the prime minister see
IFEX alerts of 19 July, 5 July, 23 June, 21 June, 18 June, 16 June, 11 June,
4 June, 21 May and 7 May 1999**

On 16 August, the country's biggest daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times",
responded with an editorial comment which said: "Prime Minister Mahendra
Chaudhry is obviously banking on a smart political strategy to draw public
attention away from the problems his administration faces. He puts the blame
squarely on the media each time the pressure is on him to deliver his
election promises." The editorial also said: "While in the Opposition and as
a trade unionist, he befriended and used the media to put pressure on the
administration to produce the goods. Now that he is on the Government side,
he has changed his tactics and tune. The media is no longer an ally but an
enemy for the sake of political expedience."

Background Information

The Fiji Islands has amongst the most diverse and free news media in the
Pacific Islands. They include two seven-day-a-week English-language daily
newspapers, with a third about to be launched; weekly newspapers in Hindi,
Fijian, and English; news, business, trade and entertainment magazines;
independent commercial, community and religious radio stations and
commercial and community television; and government-owned public and
commercial radio stations. However, the news media have come under
continuing criticism from Prime Minister Chaudhry and his assistant
Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi since the election of the new Fiji
Labour Party-led coalition government in May. It has included threats to
impose a government-legislated media council in place of the present
self-regulatory council and to move against "foreign" interests in the media
(see IFEX alerts).

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