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Fiji TV to feature deposed prime minister despite warning from government

(PINA/IFEX) - On 26 October 2000 (local date), Fiji Islands news media reported that the country's independent national television service, Fiji Television, will feature the deposed prime minister on its leading current affairs programme. It will do so despite a warning from the interim Fiji government's minister for information, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, that having deposed Prime Minister Mahenda Chaudhry on the programme could promote "civil insurrection or disobedience."

Fiji Television head of news and programmes Richard Broadbridge was quoted by "The Fiji Sun" as saying Fiji Television has also invited an interim government representative to appear. He said the programme would be pre-recorded and would be aired in the next scheduled Close Up programme showing on 29 October. "The Fiji Sun" also quoted the government's permanent secretary for information, Vuetasau Buatoka, as saying he was not aware of Chaudhry's participation in the Close Up programme. "I'm not aware of it so I'm not commenting on anything yet," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

"The Fiji Sun" first reported that 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."

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 of three journalists from Radio Fiji and interrogating them at army headquarters on 20 October (see IFEX alerts of 20 and 25 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 force 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. The leader of the hostage takers, George Speight, and other key supporters have been detained on treason charges.

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