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Fiji govt commences restrictions on foreign media ownership

A move by the military-backed Fijian government to introduce harsh restrictions on foreign ownership of media was met with international condemnation.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2010 15:47 IST
Kyodo

A move by the military-backed Fijian government to introduce harsh restrictions on foreign ownership of media was met with international condemnation.

Under the South Pacific nation's "Media Industry Development Decree 2010," which came into effect yesterday, media organisations have three months to ensure they are 90 per cent owned by local shareholders.

"Under the Decree, all the directors and at least 90 percent of beneficial shareholders of any media organization must be Fijian citizens permanently residing in Fiji," Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said in a statement.

"Any media organization which fails to comply with this requirement shall cease to operate as a media organization, and shall also be liable for an offence under the Decree," Sayed-Khaiyum added.

Fiji's oldest and most popular newspaper, the Fiji Times, is owned by US media magnate Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Sayed-Khaiyum said the Fiji Times would be the only organization affected by the new local ownership requirements.

When the decree was first announced in April, Sayed-Khaiyum described the newspaper as "the purveyor of negativity, at least for the past three years."

Under the new legislation, any journalist found guilty of breaching restrictions faces fines of up to about USD 5,042 or imprisonment of up to two years.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Fiji's move to limit foreign ownership was bad for both investment and freedom of speech.

"We worry very much that this arbitrary move sends a very bad signal as far as future investment in Fiji is concerned, let alone the very bad signal it sends in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and democratic rights," Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key echoed Smith's concerns.

"It looked very heavy-handed and reiterates what we have been saying for quite some time -- that we want to see democracy restored in Fiji because we want a fully operating economy and environment," Key was reported as saying by New Zealand Press Association.

"When you start banning media and telling organizations to sell their newspapers, to me it sounds like a step too far," Key added.

Both Australia and New Zealand have been critical of Fiji's military-led government, largely over its refusal to hold a general election until 2014. Commander Frank Bainimarama overthrew the democratically elected Laisenia Qarase government in December 2006.