Fiji is again experiencing censorship of the news after the country’s constitution was repealed earlier this month and the political news void is once again being filled by bloggers.
Fiji has a long history of free speech repression, having had five coups between 1987 and 2006, the last of which brought Voreqe Bainimarama’s military regime to power. Each time, at least some civil rights were suspended by the winners of the political struggle. As opposition rose earlier this year, Bainimarama suspended the island nation’s constitution on April 10. During the period between repeal of the constitution and today, regime censors have been sent into print and broadcast media newsrooms to keep sensitive political news off the air and out of print.
There is also a history of bloggers helping to get the repressed news out. This practice started in a small way in the country’s 2000 coup, and in an expanded manner during Bainimarama’s 2006 takeover, according to an AFP story. Now, two years later, censored news is again being distributed by bloggers, some of them the very reporters that have been censored by the military government. Bainimarama’s government censors are discovering once again that bloggers are much harder to repress thanmore traditional media.
Pacific journalist and academic David Robie says of the situation, “I think the Fiji journalists are enormously resilient and courageous and they have shown in the past they are very adaptable at dealing with oppressive regimes as they have with the previous three coups. But this is the first time we have had really systematic censorship and for getting on for two weeks now.”
Former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Sireli Kini, now a New Zealander, has said that he feels the media clampdown is worse than letting the news free, because it leads to the spread of rumors that are more dangerous that the actual facts. He says, “It’s human instinct, people want to know what’s happening and when somebody spreads a rumor it spreads like wildfire and it’s very destructive. They [bloggers] have taken over the role of the conventional journalism by informing the members of the public. Some of them are on the target. There are some well written stories there.”
Robie, former coordinator of Suva’s University of the South Pacific journalism program, says, “They’ve shot themselves in the foot by doing this, because by clamping down they’ve canceled out any chance of getting their side of the story across as well. I think there will be a loosening [of restrictions] time, but it’s hard to say with the degree of paranoia at the moment just what will unfold.”
Many would say that this is precisely the way that the Web was supposed to be used, Bainimarama’s sensitivities aside. Just as movable type and the printing press spread democratic ideals around the world, the power of blogging is helping to combat the repressive regimes of a more modern age.