Fiji PM tells SBS journalist to 'go back to Australia' when challenged on media freedom laws

With the upcoming election, Fiji is attempting to shake off its history as a nation which has seen four coups in less than 20 years.

SBS journalist Hannah Sinclair speaks to Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

SBS journalist Hannah Sinclair speaks to Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Source: SBS

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says the country’s restrictive media laws aren’t affecting the election.

Journalists are free to criticise the Fijian government in the lead up to Wednesday’s election, according to Mr Bainimarama.

During his FijiFirst party’s final campaign rally in Lautoka over the weekend, Mr Bainimarama told foreign journalists he has encouraged criticism of the government during the campaign.

"Media freedom is here in Fiji, anybody wants to criticise the government, they can criticise the government," Mr Bainimarama told SBS News.

Since leading a coup in 2006 and taking power, Mr Bainimarama has overseen a strict tightening of Fiji’s media laws.

Almost no criticism of the government is published or broadcast in Fiji with journalists restricted by the draconian .

Violations of the decree are punishable by up to two years in prison.

"The media has been criticising the government, so what the hell are you talking about?" Mr Bainimarama told SBS News when asked if media freedom laws inhibit the free and fair nature of the election.

Local journalists did not ask critical questions of the Prime Minister at the Lautoka rally.

Mr Bainimarama was visibly irritated when asked by SBS News if he was encouraging criticism during the campaign.

"I think you go back to Australia," Mr Bainimara told SBS News.

"Go back to Australia and then come back to Fiji and see what life is all about in Fiji."

The editor, publisher and manager of one of the country’s most popular news outlets The Fiji Times, were acquitted of spurious sedition charges earlier this year for publishing a letter that contained controversial views about Muslims in one of its publications.

Fiji's election will be held on Wednesday with Mr Bainimarama up against another former coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka who is leading the main opposition SODELPA party.

A 48-hour media blackout comes into force at midnight on Sunday until polls close, which will see all signage and campaign activities cease.

International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Fiji in - out of 180 nations - in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The group in particular to the impact of the 2010 decree.

"Coverage of the 2018 parliamentary elections will be a decisive test for Fijian press freedom," the organisation said in its index. 

3 min read
Published 11 November 2018 at 12:53pm
By Hannah Sinclair