22 Nov 2009

NZ 'disturbed' at reports of Fiji media clampdown

2:30 pm on 22 November 2009

The New Zealand Government says it is disappointed and disturbed at reports which suggest Fiji's interim regime has revoked broadcasting licences in the Pacific nation.

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says authorities in Suva have made changes to broadcasting arrangements, effectively seizing all licences.

Mr Smith says the action has been carried out by decree, which no court or other agency can overturn, and the move is an escalation of the regime's efforts to impose itself on its critics.

Fiji broadcasters say they are having to justify their continued use of radio and television frequencies.

But Attorney-General and Communications Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Radio New Zealand he has acted to help prepare the country for the digital broadcasting age and believes the decree will assist the people of Fiji.

"The government of Fiji has put in place a decree to deal with spectrum planning which will then allow Fiji to position itself very well for the digital age. It's to plan our future better in the broadcast area," he says.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is regarded as the government's second-most powerful figure after military commander Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

A spokesperson for New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the move shows the interim regime is determined to limit any public criticism of its actions.

The spokesperson says it is clear the issue will be discussed at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Meeting, which begins in Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

The Media Freedom Committee in New Zealand, which represents journalists, editors and publishers, says it is just more of the same from a repressive regime.

Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst told Radio New Zealand journalists in Fiji operate under "extremely difficult" circumstances with censors in their newsroom.

Mr Pankhurst believes pressure should be put on the interim regime.

Australian media reported television and radio stations were broadcasting this weekend on a temporary basis while awaiting a directive from Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.