The future of Fiji TV, which has been an institution for more than 20 years, is uncertain after it was issued just a six month extension to its broadcasting licence.
The move came after the interim government was reportedly unhappy about some of its coverage and a political scientist says the regime’s message to broadcasters is pretty clear.
Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:
Fiji TV had reportedly been warned that its 12-year broadcasting licence, which was due to expire at the weekend, was at risk because it gave coverage to two former prime ministers.
In the last minute the Fiji TV did get an extension - but for only six months.
Last month, the regime issued a Television Amendment Decree that empowers the minister to revoke or vary a television licence if the licensee is found to have breached the Media Code of Ethics.
Dr Steven Ratuva, from the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, says it’s a big concern, especially when the process for constitutional review is happening.
“Six months is really tokenistic and it’s really a way in which they are telling them to restrict the way they operate which is really not good intents of providing the bigger political climate for more dialogue in Fiji at this point in time.”The Ministry of Information says the government won’t be making any comment on why it only issued a six month licence to Fiji TV.
Fiji TV say it wasn’t given any reason and didn’t want to make any other comment.
At the end of last year, a rival station was set up when the interim prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama launched the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation’s television service.
The head of the FBC, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, says it doesn’t get any special privileges as the country’s state television service.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum wasn’t sure how many years it has left on its licence and when we asked the Ministry of Information - it refused to say.
Dr Ratuva says when the interim government replaced the Public Emergency Regulations with the Public Order Amendment Decree, it was meant to end official censorship in newsrooms.
But he says with the introduction of the Television Amendment Decree, the media are getting mixed messages.
“The public order act empahsized the restrictive provision to it had to do with people making statements which would encourage ethnic tension, political conflict. But the interviews Chaudhry and Qarase, I don’t think had anything to do with it, it looks like the regime might be trying to regulate the process towards the election in relation to who should say what.”Richard Broadbridge, who heads the country’s other private television station Mai TV, says its licence is valid for another eight years.
Mr Broadbridge refused to comment on whether he was concerned about the decree.
Dr Ratuva says for a small country the competition between TV stations is quite stiff, so they will be feeling the pressure.
“It depends very much on how much these TV stations would align themselves politically, how that might perhaps sustain their long term interests in the country. So the media in Fiji while the restrictions officially have been lifted they’re still very worried of the political ramifications of what they do.”Dr Ratuva believes Fiji TV will find it difficult to work under a six month licence, which will seriously impede programme planning and budgeting.