23 Nov 2009

No threat to freedom of expression - Fiji broadcaster

6:59 am on 23 November 2009

One of Fiji's main commercial broadcasters says government changes to broadcasting rules do not present a threat to freedom of expression in the Pacific nation.

The military-led regime has decreed all those now using the airwaves will have to apply to the government to keep doing so. No court or agency can overturn the decree.

The issue is expected to be discussed at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Meeting, which begins in Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

Fiji's Attorney- General and Communications Minister Aiyez Sayed-Khaiyum says the country's broadcast spectrum has been allocated in a disorganised, inefficient and ad hoc fashion.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says the interim government will reallocate the airwaves and until then broadcasters can keep using existing frequencies on a temporary basis.

The minister told Radio New Zealand at the weekend he has acted to help prepare the country for the digital broadcasting age and believes the decree will assist the people of Fiji.

The New Zealand Government says it is "disturbed" at reports broadcasting licences will be revoked, and observers fear the regime's latest decree means further curbs on the media.

However, Communications Fiji, which claims 60% of the radio market, says it has been told by the interim regime that all frequencies should be viewed as temporary, pending a review of the broadcasting spectrum.

The company says it does not fear anything sinister as the haphazardly-managed airwaves are due for a shake-up.

A spokesperson for Communications Fiji, William Parkinson, says the industry has been promised consultation and they are waiting to hear from the government.

Media expert Jim Tully, of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, says government control of the airwaves threatens freedom of speech - especially in remote island nations such as Fiji which rely heavily on broadcast media.