Editorial comment – Positive sign

It is encouraging to note that Fiji has examined the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review report working group’s recommendations, and supports that it should take legislative measures, ensuring the right to freedom of expression is protected in line with provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This was outlined in the UPR’s final report on December 23, 2019.

It is good to note that Fiji has also undertaken to examine a number of other recommendations made by working group members to “review decrees limiting freedom of expression and association”.

Legislation under the spotlight include the Public Order (Amendment) Act, the Media Industry Development Decree 2010, the Electoral Act 2014, the Online Safety Act and the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree.

Fiji has also agreed to “adopt concrete measures to ensure that trade unions and human rights defenders are able to carry out their work, guaranteeing their freedom of expression, association and assembly and freedom of the press”.

The United Nations has recommended that Fiji repeal all laws and policies that unlawfully restrict the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association of the Fijian people.

The UN has asked Fiji to review decrees that limited freedom of expression and association, review the Media Industry Development Decree and guarantee freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of the press, by ensuring respect for the rights of journalists and human rights defenders.

Interestingly the UN Human Rights Council pointed out that Fiji should avoid “abusive interpretations of any journalistic publications”.

The UN asked Fiji to respect the rights of journalists and repeal or amend the Media Industry Development Decree 2010, the Public Order (Amendment) Act and the sedition provisions of the Crimes Act. On the recommendation of France, Fiji was asked to repeal and amend laws “which punishes any journalistic publication against the general interest or public order, in order to avoid abusive interpretations”.

During the inaugural meeting of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum in Brisbane late last year, sections of the Media Industry Development Authority Decree were raised as a discussion point.

Section 22, on content regulation, requires media organisations in Fiji to ensure that their content must not include material which:

  • ┬áis against the public interest or order;
  • is against national interest; or
  • creates communal discord.

Section 23 reads: The content of any print media which is in excess of 50 words must include a byline and wherever practical, the content of any media service must include a byline.

The penalties for breaches of these two sections are fines not exceeding $100,000 for a media organisation or, in the case of a publisher or editor, a fine not exceeding $25,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both.

The powers that be have a challenge that embraces a number of scenarios.

It is encouraging though that Fiji has examined the report and supports that it should take legislative measures. Those impacted by these scenarios will no doubt be looking on with keen interest.

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