Troops in the newsroom. It’s not a situation Australian news organisations have to deal with, but today it’s a reality for print, radio and television journalists in the Fijian capital, Suva.
Fiji Times didn’t publish this morning’s edition in protest. In a story published prominently on the paper’s website, Managing Director Tony Yianni said:
We were ordered to breach the Constitution and not publish any dissenting views that may be sent to us by free citizens, as well as the views of legally elected members of the Qarase government.
If we do not have the freedom to publish with responsibility, then we do not publish.
The Times wasn’t the only news organisation hit. According to Reporters Without Borders:
Fiji’s public television announced the suspension of its news programmes a few hours after Bainimarama’s takeover. The station said, “Fiji Television‘s news service will not resume until it can be independent and free of censorship.” The two privately-owned radio networks, Radio Fiji and Communications Fiji, also received visits from the military, which imposed prior censorship on them. Soldiers are reportedly still posted outside their offices.
Yet it appears that the Times’s decision not to publish has forced the military, who wanted everything to appear normal, into a compromise. According to a source close to the paper, the Times has met with the military today and will publish an afternoon edition.
Unlike other news organisations, the Times doesn’t have armed soldiers in the newsroom; instead, they are stationed in the car park. Journalists must seek comment from the military on all stories it publishes on the coup, but that will not include the stories being vetoed or changed in any way.
Further, a meeting this morning with the heads of Fiji’s major media organisations agreed that each would take a business-as-usual approach. Another meeting with military this afternoon will decide how the media will operate from tomorrow.
Another source told Crikey: “Our approach will be we won’t compromise. We believe in the freedom of the press and an unfettered media. That’s stipulated under our constitution and in a democratic country we expect it. We are operating under a threat and a sense of intimidation but we’re trying to ignore it.”