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.” The Media Industry Development Decree prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.
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 may prosecute on their return to the country. The courts set the trial for more than 60 defendants in an August 2015 sedition case for 2017. The government charged the defendants for seditious acts in 2015 following claims of military-style training and an attempt to establish a breakaway state on the main island of Viti Levu.
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 10,000 Fijian dollars (F$) ($4,870) fine or five years in prison.
The 2015 Flag Protection Act makes any use of Fiji’s flag to “demean, disrespect, or insult the State, the Government or any member of Government, or the general public” an offense punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of F$20,000 ($9,750). According to the law, “the onus of proof shall be on the Defendant to prove his or her innocence.”
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, despite the media decree and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).
Public debate improved markedly as news media published a more diverse range of political commentary.
The government continued to publish fortnightly supplements and most of its advertisements in the Fiji Sun newspaper, which was generally progovernment.
Violence and Harassment: On August 17, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) charged three media agency staff and the author of a letter to the editor for allegedly breaching the crimes decree, which prohibits any communication that promotes “feelings of enmity or ill-will between different communities, religious groups or classes of the community.” The ODPP charged the four men for inciting communal antagonism against the Muslim community with an article published on April 27 in the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper, Nai Lalakai. The maximum penalty for the offense is 10 years’ imprisonment. The four defendants in the case were Fiji Times Editor in Chief Fred Wesley, Fiji Times General Manager Hank Arts, journalist Anare Ravula, and letter author Josaia Waqabaca.
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. 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 ($12,200) for publishers and editors, and F$100,000 ($48,700) 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 ($487) 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 media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or materials for publication. Journalists reported that this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in years past but said self-censorship continued to be a problem.
The television amendment decree requires television license holders to operate in conformance with the media decree’s code of ethics.
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 for media to continue 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 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: In October the government lifted all remaining bans on foreign journalists seeking to enter the country, including the bans on New Zealand journalists Michael Field and Barbara Dreaver, and Australian journalist Sean Dorney.
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 name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The decree imposes fines of up to F$100,000 ($48,700) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and up to F$10,000 ($4,870) 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.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific 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.