Fiji Time: 3:15 AM on Thursday 22 February

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Be responsible, journalists reminded

Nasik Swami
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THE recent questioning of three Fijian journalists by police sadly attests the need to have robust discussions about constitutionally guaranteed rights, freedoms and responsibilities that come with it and its impact on the freedom of expression landscape in the country.

That's the word from Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) chairman Ashwin Raj after the questioning of former Islands Business publisher Netani Rika, group editor-in-chief Samisoni Pareti and reporter Nanise Volau.

The three were questioned at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters at Suva St over the weekend over an online article published in relation to the Air Terminal Services (Fiji) Ltd impasse.

Mr Raj said every citizen had the right to freedom of speech, expression, and publication.

"In exercising these rights, everyone under the Constitution has the right to be free from arbitrary arrests and detention," he said.

"However, the right to publication comes with responsibility. Section 15 (a) of the Public Order Act expressly provides under Malicious Acts that any person who maliciously fabricated or knowingly spreads abroad or publishes, whether by writing or by word of mouth or otherwise, any false news or false report tending to create or foster public alarm, public anxiety or disaffection or to result in the detriment of the public."

Mr Raj said journalists must take responsibility when they publish material that impugns institutions and individuals, there were serious consequences not only in terms of the rule of law, but also the fact that it adversely affected everyone's ability to enjoy freedom of expression without fear of reprisal and recrimination.

"While the police are constitutionally obligated to uphold the rule of law, it is incumbent on journalists to abide by the ethics of their profession. We must endeavour to have a robust freedom of expression landscape in Fiji and for this to happen, it is critical that everyone understands that in performing their respective duties of upholding institutions and individuals to account, they must exercise responsibility because we can neither afford to have chilling effect on freedom of expression nor can we act as if we are above the law."

Meanwhile, the National Federation Party has condemned the detention of the three Islands Business magazine journalists and labelled the issue as "deeply concerning".

In a statement, party president Pio Tikoduadua said Islands Business posted a story last week suggesting that the employment contract of Magistrate Andrew See had ended.

"The police reacted by questioning Islands Business journalists and searching their offices and homes," Mr Tikoduadua said. "The journalists were told that they were suspected of 'maliciously fabricating' information or spreading 'false news reports to create public alarm' under section 15 of the Public Order Act.

"We do not yet know if the story is wrong. But that is not the point. How could a news story about a magistrate's appointment cause public alarm?"

Police investigations into the matter continue.

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