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RNZ Pacific

Fiji has been ranked as the worst place in the Pacific region for journalists in the latest assessment by the global press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

In RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index released last week, Fiji was placed 102nd out of 180 countries — receiving an overall score of 56.91 out of 100.

The country slipped by 47 places compared to its 2021 rankings when it was placed 55 out of 180 nations.

RSF changed its system of analysis this year to include a breakdown on specific categories such as legal framework and justice system, technological censorship and surveillance, disinformation and propaganda, arbitrary detention and proceedings, independence and pluralism, models and good practices, media sustainability, and violence against journalists, which partially explains Fiji’s sudden fall on the Index.

The Paris-based media watchdog said “journalists critical of the government are regularly intimidated and even imprisoned by the indestructible Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, in power since the military coup of 2006.”

Other countries from the region surveyed by the Index included Aotearoa New Zealand, which was ranked 11th, Australia (39th), Samoa (45th), Tonga (49th), and Papua New Guinea (62nd).

Neighbouring Timor-Leste improved 54 places to 17th.

RSF said Aotearoa New Zealand, which received an overall score of 83.54, was a “regional model” for press freedom “by having developed safeguards against political and economic influences” for journalists to conduct their work.

The yearly report was released to coincide with last week’s World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Media decree, sedition laws
It said Fiji operated under the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree, which became law in 2018.

RSF said in an earlier report that the sedition laws in Fiji, with penalties of up to seven years in prison, were also used to foster a climate of fear and self-censorship.

“Sedition charges put the lives of three journalists with The Fiji Times, the leading daily, on hold until they were finally acquitted in 2018,” the report stated.

“Many observers believed it was the price the newspaper paid for its independence.”

Fiji was ranked 52nd in both 2020 and 2019 but was 57th in 2018.

The Fiji Media Industry Development Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

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