Fiji strips licences from broadcasters

by Andy Sennitt.

The military-installed Fiji government has removed all broadcasting licences and given Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum the absolute power to renew or redistribute them without any compensation to those whose licences are stripped.

Television and radio stations are broadcasting this weekend on a temporary basis, as the owner, managers, staff and audiences await the determinations of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum. He is the second-most powerful figure in the government after military commander and prime minister Frank Bainimarama. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum is also Minister for Justice, Anti-Corruption, Public Enterprises, Industry, Investment and Tourism, and Communications.

The action was carried out this week by decree - the chief tool of government since the parliament was scrapped and the constitution abrogated. The decree states that no compensation can be claimed as a result of the cancellation or reallocation of a broadcasting licence, and that no court, tribunal or commission has the jurisdiction to entertain any challenge over the loss of a licence. Anyone broadcasting in contravention to the ministerís directions can be jailed for five years.

The dominant television broadcaster, Fiji TV, is owned by Yasana Holdings, which represents the 14 ethnic Fijian provinces, and which also owns the monopoly Papua New Guinea TV broadcaster EMTV. Fiji TV established a reputation for impartial news coverage, although the military installed two officers on its board following the coup three years ago. It, like the countryís other media, is now subject to stringent military censorship.

All the countryís VHF TV frequencies are in the hands of Fiji TV. It is now expected that at least one of these frequencies will be reallocated to the government-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, which operates a radio service and has expressed an intention to establish a TV network, towards which it has allocated several million dollars. The corporationís chief executive, appointed earlier this year, is Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, younger brother of the Attorney-General and formerly a TV journalist.

The government broadcasts directly from 7-9pm nightly, except on Sundays, on a frequency it pays to rent from Fiji TV.