Australia’s condemnation of Fiji’s crackdown on foreign ownership of the media is unfair, officials from the South Pacific nation say.
Fiji’s self-appointed Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has decreed that the Fiji Times must be 90 per cent locally owned in three months.
The paper is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Australian arm and the move will force News Ltd to sell or close its newspaper.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith condemned the decree as an assault on freedom of speech and said it would deter investment in Fiji.
“We worry very much that this will have wider adverse consequences for the people of Fiji,” Mr Smith told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“This is a very bad outcome. News Limited are entitled to be upset.”
Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Information, Sharon Smith-Johns, slammed critics, saying the decree, announced on Monday, would empower the people of Fiji.
“Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has grossly exaggerated and taken the issue out of context,” Ms Smith-Johns told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday.
“It’s most unfair that the Australian Foreign Minister and News Ltd are selectively highlighting issues and sensationalising them.
“I mean the media decree is a huge step forward for this country.”
Military leader Commodore Bainimarama has been tightening controls on the media since he overthrew the elected government in a 2006 coup.
“Comments that the media decree is designed to force Fiji Times out of the country are absolutely incorrect,” Ms Smith-Johns said.
“We don’t want to see the Fiji Times close.”
She suggested critics of the new decree read the rules before passing judgment.
“I would say that very few of them (critics) have actually read the decree and understand it.
“So my advice would be to first read it, understand it, then comment.”