Fiji voters must choose leadership where people are free to speak without fear, says regional media monitoring group PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.

“One senior politician says anybody is free to criticise,” says PFF Chair Monica Miller.

“Yet Fiji citizens and their media have been bullied into near silence.”

PFF is concerned that silence has allowed so-called ‘fake news’ to potentially influence voting – today and the future – under current election laws.

Says Miller, “We now have the ridiculous situation where real media cannot fact check, but fake profiles on social media can still say what they want.”

Join the 21st century

PFF is calling on Fiji and other Pacific states to “join the 21st century” and remove election blackout rules dating back to the horse and cart era.

“The world wide web is now more than three decades old.”

“If citizens cannot get information from their own country, people will seek information overseas, as is their right, leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of fake information.”

Public plea

Ahead of elections, daily newspaper Fiji Times took the unusual step to plea for the public to report a fake Facebook page using their name.

The page was removed.

In other news, a journalist from SBS public broadcasting in Australia reported there was no critical questions from Fiji media during a campaign meeting.

When she asked about the lack of criticism, a politician avoided the question, demanding to know “what the hell” she was talking about, and suggesting she “go back home.”

SBS notes that global media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers, ranks Fiji 57th out of 180 nations for press freedoms, quoting RSF as saying that the elections would be a “crucial test” for the country.

Eyes, ears, voice

Co-chair Bernadette Carreon says PFF members are also alarmed that popular online sites like Friends of Fiji Media have changed their Facebook settings from public to secret.

Comments for some posts among existing members were disabled.

“These changes indicate the level of fear still ruling over Fiji media, that they choose to shut down their biggest site to the public,” says Carreon, reviewing Fiji reports from Palau.

“Media are supposed to be the eyes, ears and voice of the people,” she says, as is recognised under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Another rights watchdog, Amnesty International, says the next government of Fiji must take action against “severe failings”, including over freedoms of speech. (PR)