Report – By the PMC news desk
The 48-hour media blackout on political news before Fiji’s polling day on Wednesday has “unduly harsh” penalties and is designed to curb free speech, says the presenter of Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch programme.
Broadcaster Colin Peacock, who monitors media developments in New Zealand and globally in the weekly half-hour programme, says that after such a long time since the last election, people in Fiji should be encouraged to be discussing issues on social media without it being necessarily considered a “publication”.
This is the first election since the military coup in December 2006. People have cast votes in pre-polling and the main election is on Wednesday.
Fijian Elections Office communication officer Talei Tora confirmed to the Pacific Media Centre today that the ban applies to social media.
This includes all Facebook comments and twitter re-tweets.
Peacock told PMC’s Thomas Carnegie the penalties of the Electoral Decree – including provisions of up to F$50,000 or 10 years in jail – are “unduly harsh” compared with a comparable New Zealand penalty of $20,000 and no jail term.
He says it depends on how the authorities wish to police the provisions under the decree, especially over social media.
An official media blackout guideline based on Section 118 of the decree says:
“Media must not allow any political activity, including advertisements, interview and political actors, and conduct debates or commentaries that would be deemed to be advocacy or has the potential to influence voters – eg. no candidate can be interviewed on a radio talkback show [after] 7.30am.”
The blackout runs from 7.30am today until the close of polling at 6pm on Wednesday.
A total of 450 journalists and media staff have been accredited to cover the elections, including 37 from foreign news organisations – among them two student journalists from AUT University.