The 2022 World Press Freedom Index has labelled Fiji the worst nation in the Pacific for journalists, with intimidation and other restrictions threatening open civic space in the country.
Reporters Without Borders, the global press freedom watchdog behind the index, says journalists are often subjected to intimidation or even imprisonment when they are overly critical of the government or attempt to hold leaders accountable by ensuring they deliver on their promises.
The nation placed in the 102nd position out of 180 counties.
"Journalists [in Fiji] face the threat of heavy fines or imprisonment for publishing material ‘contrary to the public or national interest,’ a term that is poorly defined in the law,” the index explains. “Against this backdrop, many journalists must think twice before publishing content critical of the authorities.”
The use of discriminatory advertising practices by Fijian authorities was also highlighted.
The index revealed that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fijian leaders withheld ads from the Fiji Times. The paper was also forbidden to distribute in various parts of the country “because the government argued that ‘the press is a non-essential service.’”
🔴 #RSFIndex | RSF's World Press Freedom Index 2022 reveals polarisation at two levels – in the media and between countries – that is being amplified by information chaos. The result is divisions within countries and between countries. #WPFD2022https://t.co/zPCTDFGehmpic.twitter.com/cjvXm4ml8V— RSF (@RSF_inter) May 3, 2022
Defending the right of anyone — including the media — to speak freely without fear of retaliation or violence is key to inclusive democracies, good governance and sustainable development, and is considered the antidote to authoritarianism.
According to the United Nations, the media plays an important role in advancing public understanding of economic, social and environmental issues: the three key pillars of sustainable development. Additionally, the organisation explains that a free, open press provides crucial opportunities for the most vulnerable people to have a voice and share their thoughts and opinions.
“The media plays a central role in informing the public about global, national and local events and is a powerful medium for shaping opinion and policy,” the United Nations added. “Changes in national policies often come about after a sustained media campaign raising public awareness and causing national debates.”
The United Nations’ UNESCO agency, meanwhile, sites a “strong positive correlation” between freedom of expression and higher incomes, lower infant mortality rates and increased adult literacy. Borgen Magazine, likewise, reveals that history has long proven that the corrosion of democracy heightens issues like food insecurity, violence and poverty.
Just under a third of Fiji’s population live under the poverty line.
The latest poverty figures reveal the nation has in fact seen poverty gradually increase over the past half-decade or so, 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 nation’s in the Asia-Pacific to be labbeled in the “problamtic,” “difficult,” and “very serious” categories include Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Laos, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.