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Serious allegations

Tevita Vuibau
Saturday, June 28, 2014

THE Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) says allegations the military is intimidating journalists in the lead up to the elections are false and a matter of serious concern.

Their retort comes after two USP academics criticised the military for comments made by RFMF Commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga for comments he made — not denying that activists and anti-government personalities were beaten and tortured by the military.

The criticism also centred around the fact that two veteran Fijian journalists — Samisoni Pareti and Netani Rika — were refused entry to the PIDF summit in Nadi last week by the Ministry of Information.

There were also allegations that Rika was constantly visited in his hotel room by police.

But the Ministry of Information said they refused entry to the two journalists because one was not registered with MIDA and the other had filed for PIDF media accreditation after the registration deadline.

However, it was later established that the ministry was mistaken and permanent secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns issued an apology to Pareti.

Acting co-ordinator for the USP Journalism Program Patrick Craddock said this was yet another indicator of a military government intimidating journalists in the lead up to elections.

"Where was the loud-mouthed MIDA when this happened? It was silent and still is. The chairman, Aswhin Raj, talks about robust journalism. It is all mouth-water talk. What an insult to freedom of speech."

Journalism lecturer at USP Dr Matthew Thompson said the new military chief's endorsement of torture to silence critics is "disgusting".

"Do Fijian soldiers beat and torture people they see as troublemakers while on peacekeeping missions or do they reserve that treatment for Fijian citizens?" Dr Thompson asked.

However, MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj denied the pair's claims saying instead that their allegations were baseless and had no foundation.

"It is all too easy, in this context for foreign academics having barely spent any significant time in Fiji, to drum the dialectics of freedom and non-freedom."

"Any responsible academic as a necessary measure would have first ascertained and corroborated the facts before making a series of gnomic pronouncements about freedom."

Raj said it would have been simple to contact MIDA and the Ministry of Information to check the facts before making statements.

The USP has distanced itself from the comments of the two saying their statements do not reflect opinions of the USP and that they were being investigated.

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