Fiji named worst Pacific nation for press freedom and open civic space

The 2022 world press freedom index called Fiji the worst country in the Pacific for journalists, with intimidation and other restrictions threatening open civic space in the country.

Reporters Without Bordersthe global press freedom watchdog behind the index, says journalists are often intimidated or even jailed when they overly criticize the government or try to hold leaders accountable by ensuring that they keep their promises.

The nation ranked 102nd out of 180 counties.

“Journalists [in Fiji] risk of heavy fines or imprisonment for publishing material “contrary to the public or national interest”, a term ill-defined in the law”, the index explains. “In this context, many journalists have to think twice before publishing content critical of the authorities.

The use of discriminatory advertising practices by Fijian authorities was also highlighted.

The index found that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fijian leaders withheld ads of fiji times. The newspaper was also banned from distributing in various parts of the country “because the government argued that ‘the press is not an essential service'”.

Upholding the right of everyone – including the media – to speak freely without fear of reprisal or violence is key to inclusive democracies, good governance and sustainable development, and is seen as the antidote to authoritarianism .

According to the UN, the media play an important role in the public’s understanding of economic, social and environmental issues: the three pillars of sustainable development. Furthermore, the organization explains that a free and open press offers the most vulnerable people crucial opportunities to have their voices heard and to share their thoughts and opinions.

“The media plays a central role in informing the public about world, national and local events and is a powerful medium for shaping opinion and policy”, the UN added. “Changes in national policies often come after a sustained media campaign raising public awareness and provoking national debates.”

The United Nations agency for UNESCO, for its part, sites a “strong positive correlation” between free speech and rising incomes, lower infant mortality rates and increased adult literacy. Borgen Magazinelikewise, reveals that history has long proven that the corrosion of democracy exacerbates problems such as food insecurity, violence and poverty.

Just under a third of Fiji’s population lives below the poverty line.

The latest poverty figures reveal the country has indeed seen poverty gradually increase over the last half-decade, from 28.1% in 2013 and 2014 to 29.9% in 2019 and 2020.

North Korea came last in this year’s index, followed by Eritrea, Iran and Turkemnistan.

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region categorized as “problem”, “difficult” and “very serious” include Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Laos, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Burma.

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