The constitution provides for freedom of expression, speech, thought, opinion, and publication, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; and enforcing media standards and regulating the conduct of media organizations. Additionally, the POAD gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace,” and the media decree prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of the media. The government used the threat of prosecution under these provisions to intimidate its critics and impede public criticism.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The crimes decree includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person, who authorities can prosecute on their return to Fiji. In August authorities arrested and charged for seditious acts more than 60 persons from the provinces of Nadroga, Navosa, and Ra following claims of military-style training and attempts to establish a breakaway state on the main island of Viti Levu. Those charged awaited trial at year’s end. The POAD defines as terrorism any act designed to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause that could “reasonably be regarded” as intended to compel a government to do or refrain from doing any act or to intimidate the public or a section thereof. It also makes acts of religious vilification and attempts to sabotage or undermine the country’s economy offenses punishable by a maximum F$10,000 ($5,250) fine or five years in prison. During the year police monitored public and private meetings of NGOs and labor and political groups. There were no arrests or convictions for violations concerning hate speech against a particular community or against government authority.
In August parliament passed the Flag Protection Act. This new law makes it an offense punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and $9,380 (F$ 20,000) any use of Fiji’s flag to “demean, disrespect, or insult the State, the Government or any member of Government, or the general public.” According to the new law, “the onus of proof shall be on the Defendant to prove his or her innocence.”
Press and Media Freedoms: In contrast to previous years, independent media operated relatively freely, despite the media decree and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).
In contrast with previous years, the government ran some paid advertisements in the Fiji Times but published fortnightly supplements and most of its advertisements in the Fiji Sun newspaper, which was generally progovernment. In December 2014 Fijian Holdings Limited, the parent company for Fiji TV, terminated two Fiji TV senior executives’ contracts after reports of a broadcasting rights dispute with the government. The government wholly owns the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, which operates six radio stations and a television station.
Violence and Harassment: Unlike in previous years, journalists did not report any incidents of violence or harassment.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media decree contains a provision authorizing the Ministry of Information to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased formal media censorship under the decree in 2012, journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship. In contrast with previous years, the media published opinion articles by academics and commentators perceived as antigovernment.
Under the media decree, the directors and 90 percent of the shareholders of locally based media must be citizens of, and permanently resident in, the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has the power to investigate journalists and media outlets for alleged violations of the decree, including powers of search and seizure of equipment. The decree established a media tribunal to decide complaints referred by the authority, with the power to impose fines of up to F$25,000 ($11,720) for publishers and editor, and F$100,000 ($49,600) for media organizations. In contrast to previous years, amendments to the media decree removed jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to F$1,000 ($470) for journalists. The tribunal, which consists of a single judge, is not bound by formal rules of evidence. The decree strips the judiciary of power to review the decree or any proceedings or findings of MIDA, the tribunal, or the information minister.
The code of ethics in the media decree requires that material published by the media be balanced. It obligates the media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or materials for publication. This requirement enabled government departments to delay and or prevent publication of stories by not responding in a timely manner to media questions when presented an opportunity to reply, making it impossible for the media to fulfill the decree’s requirement for balanced reporting. Media sources reported that if a story was positive toward the government, they could ignore the balance requirement without consequence.
The television amendment decree requires television license holders to operate in conformance with the media decree’s code of ethics. In contrast to previous years, authorities extended Fiji TV’s 12-year broadcasting license during the year. Since 2012 Fiji TV’s license had been renewed five times for six months on each renewal after reports of a rift with the government regarding Fiji TV’s news content.
Libel/Slander Laws: The constitution includes the need to protect the reputation of persons as allowable limitations to freedom of expression. The threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media decree and the POAD was sufficient incentive to the media to practice self-censorship.
National Security: The constitution includes national security as an allowable limitation to freedom of expression. While the threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media decree and the POAD was sufficient incentive to the media to practice self-censorship, some media outlets have begun to report on issues previously considered too sensitive for publication.
Actions to Expand Press Freedom: During the year the government amended the media decree, removing jail sentences of up to two years and fines of up to F$1,000 ($470) for individual journalists. The amendment also allows foreign companies to own companies offering paid television subscriptions in the country. The government also extended Fiji TV’s broadcasting license from six months validity to 12 years.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. By decree all telephone and internet service users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including their name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The decree imposes fines of up to F$100,000 ($46,870) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and up to F$10,000 ($4,690) on users who did not update their registration information as required.
The internet was widely available and used in and around urban centers, but its availability and use were minimal or nonexistent outside urban areas. According to the World Bank, approximately 42 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific (USP) effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons entering the country on tourist visas wishing to conduct research must notify and seek permission of the government.