|Fiji took a dramatic step toward greater openness this year with the
enactment of a new constitution containing broad protections for the press.
Drawing from language contained in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, Section 30 of the constitution, which went into effect in
July, states: "Every person has the right to freedom of expression, including:
freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas; through freedom
of the press and other media."
In January, the government initiated a thorough reexamination and reform
of the country's repressive media laws, many of which have their origins
in harsh legislation passed by fiat during the British colonial period. Despite
calls from conservative politicians to follow the example of such repressive
states as Malaysia and Singapore, the government chose to follow an open
model, rejecting press licensing and a proposal for a government-sanctioned
council to oversee the media. The existing industry-sponsored "Fiji News
Council" will continue to mediate disputes among the government, the public,
and the press. An Official Information Act, which would allow greater public
access to government records, is to replace the current restrictive Official
Secrets Act and is expected to be approved by parliament in early 1999.
Despite the reform climate, the government of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka
rejected appeals from CPJ and Fijian press organizations and passed the Emergency
Powers Act of 1998 in July. The measure gives the government the power to
impose direct censorship on the media should a national state of emergency
Substantial tension persists between the country's largest daily newspaper,
the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times, and the national parliament.
The Fiji Times' aggressive reporting and critical commentary
on parliamentary proceedings have angered the legislative leadership in recent
years, leading to the filing of criminal charges against the paper under
the tough Parliamentary Privilege and Powers Act. No new charges, which carry
potential jail terms, were filed this year, but the paper was threatened
several times by politicians on the floor of the parliament.