The current media crisis in Fiji deepened earlier today [April 15] when Radio Fiji technicians accompanied by armed soldiers shut down the two local FM relay transmitters of Radio Australia.
The local relays [Nadi on the western side of Viti Levu island and Suva on the eastern side] both broadcast on 92.6 FM and carried 24/7 broadcasts from Radio Australia in Melbourne.
The main international airport is located at Nadi, and the relay also served tourists in the popular resort areas nearby. Suva is the capital.
The closure of the Radio Australia FM relays currently leaves just the BBC and Radio France International FM relays as independent news sources for residents and visitors alike apart from shortwave broadcasts.
Military personnel are stationed in newsrooms of local radio stations, many of which are operated by the state broadcaster Radio Fiji. News bulletins are censored under an emergency decree issued over Easter weekend, and no negative items about the new interim government or its activities are permitted.
Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand International continue to serve Fiji with shortwave broadcasts. It’s not yet clear if popular RNZI news programs such as ‘Dateline Pacific’ will still be carried on local AM and FM stations without local censorship in Fiji.
According to the Radio Heritage Foundation, Radio Fiji operates six separate radio channels, the main private competitor another five channels, and a variety of other local FM stations operate mainly from studios in Suva.
The closure of the Radio Australia local FM relays in Fiji is a set back for the broadcaster, which has been expanding its Asian and Pacific FM network. It recently claimed high levels of local listenership to these relays.
According to RNZI, internet cafe owners in Fiji are also reported to be closed down as their operations are investigated by government officials. A number of blog sites carrying negative comments about the interim government have received widespread publicity in recent days.
Currently, people in Fiji can still listen to foreign news broadcasts via shortwave or from some of the more powerful local AM stations in Australia and New Zealand that can be heard at night. Relays of Radio Australia and RNZI news from Radio Tonga [1017 AM] and 2AP Samoa [540 AM] may also be heard at night in some parts of Fiji.
The Indian language Radio Tarana station in Auckland [NZ] broadcasting in Hindi at 1386 AM is often well received at night throughout Fiji.
Internet streaming of Radio Australia broadcasts can be received in Fiji as well, so long as the local ISP operations remain open. The Fiji military is reported to be considering shutting down non-government internet access.
Fiji TV has already had to curtail news bulletins after initially defying the military, and the situation regarding relays of satellite delivered TV news channels channels via local rebroadcasters remains unclear. Individuals with satellite dishes are probably still able to use them, at least for now.
The situation regarding amateur radio operations is also unclear.
There are no reports of clandestine radio broadcasts attempting to circumvent the military crackdown on media news coverage.
This report draws on coverage from Radio Australia, RNZI and independent sources.