3 April 2016

‘Unfree and unfair’?: Media intimidation in Fiji’s 2014 elections

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David Robie RESEARCH: Fiji was a media pariah among Pacific nations, as well as a political outcast, for much of the eight years after Voreqe Bainimarama's military coup in December 2006. But while some media credibility was restored in the months leading up to the 2014 general elections and during the ballot itself, the elephant is still in the room: the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree (Fijian Government 2010).

Fiji  was  a  media  pariah  among  Pacific  nations,  as  well  as  a  political  outcast,  for  much  of  the  eight  years  after  Voreqe  Bainimarama’s  military  coup  in  December  2006.  But  while  some  media  credibility  was  restored  in  the  months  leading  up  to  the  2014  general  elections and during the ballot itself, the elephant is still in the room: the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree (Fijian Government 2010). While this Decree remains in force, Fiji can hardly claim to have a truly free and fair media.

Just  seven  months  out  from  the  September  17  elections,  Fiji  was  ranked  107th  out  of  179  countries  listed  in  the  2014  World  Press Freedom  Index  prepared  by  the  Paris-based  global  media  freedom  organisation  Reporters  Without  Borders  (RSF).  That  ranking  was  an improvement on the previous year (RSF 2014a), rising 10 places from
the  2013  ranking.  The  major  reason  for  this  improvement  was  the adoption of the new Constitution on 6 September 2013, criticised as it was in many quarters during that year, and the promise of ‘free and fair’ elections by 30 September 2014. The elections gave Fiji’s ranking a further boost, rising 14 places to 93rd (RSF 2015).

There  was  considerable  hope  among  news  media  and  civil  society  groups that the general elections would open the door to a free media climate,  which  had  been  lacking  since  the  coup.  Over  the  past  few   months  there  has  been  a  marked  improvement  in  public  debate  and  news  media  have  been  relatively  more  robust  in  terms  of  published  political  comment  and  debate,  particularly  in  news  columns  and  in letters to the editor.

Chapter 5 in the book:

The People Have Spoken: The 2014 Fiji Elections
Edited by Steven Ratuva and Stephanie Lawson

The September 2014 elections in Fiji was one of the most anticipated in the history of the country, coming after eight years of military rule and under a radically new constitution that introduced a system of proportional representative (PR) and without any reserved communal seats. The election was won overwhelmingly by FijiFirst, a party formed by 2006 coup leader Frank Bainimarama. He subsequently embarked on a process of shifting the political configuration of Fijian politics from inter-ethnic to trans-ethnic mobilisation. The shift has not been easy in terms of changing people’s perceptions and may face some challenges in the longer term, despite Bainimarama’s clear victory in the polls. Ethnic consciousness has the capacity to become re‑articulated in different forms and to seek new opportunities for expression. This book explores these and other issues surrounding the 2014 Fiji elections in a collection of articles written from varied political, intellectual and ideological positions.

Full list of chapters

Robie, David (2016). 'Unfree and unfair'?: Media intimidation in Fiji's 2014 elections. Chapter 5 in Steven Ratuva and Stephanie Lawson (Eds.), The People Have Spoken: The 2014 Fiji Elections. Canberra: Australian National University. Available in pdf format at ANU Press: