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Minister warns TV station against featuring deposed prime minister

(PINA/IFEX) - On 21 October 2000, Fiji Islands news media reported that Fiji Television has been warned not to feature deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry on its top-rated current affairs programme. "The Fiji Sun" reported that the interim government's minister for information, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, said that allowing Chaudhry on the programme Close Up could promote "civil insurrection or disobedience."

"The Fiji Sun" said Ratu Inoke wrote to Fiji Television about Chaudhry's possible appearance on Close Up. "The Fiji Sun" said Ratu Inoke cautioned about problems this could cause and quoted him as saying: "This is an event that must be prevented at all costs as it not only could place the company's operations at risk but also pose danger to the general public at large." "The Fiji Sun" said Ratu Inoke also claimed: "The Close Up programme does not subscribe towards the fostering of the spirit of reconciliation that is needed at this time."

Fiji Television's head of programmes and news Richard Broadbridge said the company had carefully perused Ratu Inoke's letter and weighed it alongside the terms of its licence. Broadbridge said that while Chaudhry had opted out of featuring on Close Up on 22 October, Fiji Television is still pursuing an interview with him.

During the height of Fiji's May coup crisis the Fiji Television station in the capital, Suva, was attacked and badly damaged, and a policeman was killed by coup supporters after a Close Up programme (see IFEX alert of 29 May 2000).

Background Information

The warning to Fiji TV came as criticism continued over the Fiji Military Forces taking away three journalists from Radio Fiji and interrogating them at army headquarters on 20 October (see IFEX alert of 20 October 2000). PINA called the Fiji Military Forces action a total overreaction. It said the military should have no part in detaining journalists and interrogating them to try to get them to reveal their sources.

On 19 May, indigenous Fijian gunmen, including renegade soldiers, took Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, and his government hostage. Following growing unrest and violence the Fiji Military Forces declared martial law. Fiji is now governed by an interim civilian administration supported by the country's indigenous Fijian Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces.

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