Fiji’s opposition NFP calls for dismissal of media authority chief

Peter O’Neill says his cabinet will look at cracking down on social media. Image: Rivaliq

By Nasik Swami in Suva

A Fiji opposition party has called for the immediate dismissal of Ashwin Raj as both chair of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) and director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRADC).

The National Federation Party (NFP) call follows Raj’s suggestions to stifle freedom of speech on national television – FBC TV’s talkback show 4 the Record.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said the suggestions earlier this month on FBC TV when Raj urged the state to pursue regulation of social media was “shocking” and must be condemned in the strongest terms.

National Federation Party leader Dr Biman Prasad … “shocked” by MIDA chair Ashwin Raj’s call for social media to be regulated. Image: Jona Konataci/Fiji Times

“The NFP strongly condemns these suggestions to the state by Mr Raj, which we know are all being said under the pretext of responsibility,” Dr Prasad said.

“It is chilling, unconstitutional and could be easily wielded as an instrument to again stifle the voices of the people of Fiji.

“What we find further disturbing are his pointed attacks on political parties and then the further justification of these attacks to bring in regulation over social media.”

Dr Prasad said Raj should be terminated from his positions to allow other more “worthy, neutral and independent” Fijians to apply for the position.

“His utterances and accusations are damning where he has crossed the line as a public servant acting as a mouthpiece for a political agenda.”

In response, Raj claimed the NFP leader seemed to be in the habit of distorting facts.

“The fact is that my intervention on 4 the Record was very clearly about considering the possibility of regulating hate speech on the social media,” Raj said.

“Hate speech is a constitutional crime. It is not about suppressing freedom of expression. I clearly talked about balancing freedom of expression with responsibility.”

The leader of the NFP had been invited by the FBC twice to address these matters and he refused, Raj said.

“If he is the paragon of virtue and is speaking truth to power, then why is he refusing to engage me on these matters that affect ordinary Fijians?”

MIDA chair Ashwin Raj … calls for regulation of social media because of hate speech online. Image: Fiji Television

Raj said both the Fiji Constitution and international law expressly prohibited hate speech.

“This was in fact affirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement issued on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“Does the UN High Commissioner have a political agenda and must be dismissed? Here is a political party that has given active credence to hate speech and when I called them out for what it is, they do what the NFP has always done, ask the heads of independent institutions to resign.

“So I am not surprised.”

Nasik Swami is a reporter for The Fiji Times.

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