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PFF calls on government to lift Public Emergency Regulations, allow media to report freely

(PFF/IFEX) - May 26, 2011 - Rarotonga, Cook Islands - Pacific Freedom Forum, a regional media monitoring body, has renewed its call on the Fiji regime to lift the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) which were supposed to be replaced by the 2010 introduction of the Media Decree.

Both the decree and the continued PER have kept journalists from reporting freely on news which isn't approved by the regime censors, such as the defection this month of Fiji's Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara to Tonga.

Fiji-based journalists were amongst the first to find out about the defection but had to wait more than 24 hours until a regime press conference "announced" the news. Meanwhile the story had already broken outside of Fiji.

Editors in Fiji have been told to stop reporting statements from Tevita Mara as a "matter of national security" and some individuals have been warned that commentary on social networks such as Facebook is being monitored.

"We commend those colleagues whose resourcefulness and investigative approaches around the gag laws have helped to reveal the facts of the matter to Fiji's people," says PFF co-chair Susuve Laumaea of PNG.

"The draconian nature of Fiji's media gag laws have been shown up by the Mara saga. If any Pacific nation has to get the first news on its own activities from outside journalists when the best journalists to do the job are already in-country, that's a sure sign that something needs fixing," he says.

Fiji's media decree has effectively shut down independent and free media in the country, and despite earlier promises, it has not replaced the PER which put censors into newsrooms across the country after a military takeover in April 2006.

"If the regime didn't censor and restrict the media in Fiji, the world wouldn't have to depend on outside media and social networks for their information," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

"Pacific media are standing in solidarity to commend the perseverance of Fiji-based colleagues trying to do their jobs under needlessly difficult circumstances. We call on the regime to recognise that the path to sustainable democracy must involve free and fearless reporting of the facts from all sides of a story."

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