A proposed Information Bill in Fiji may limit both media and citizens’ ability to access information.

Early in June, the Fijian Parliament proposed a new Information Bill. The bill asks for a series of changes in the way information related to the government is accessed, especially by citizens. In addition, the bill proposes charges for some of the expenses that might occur when it comes to making that information available.

The Bill caused opposition among the public and social movements. Jone Davakula , chairman of the NGO Pacific Dialogue, recently expressed his disagreement during the Parliamentary Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights in Suva. According to Davakula, the Bill aims to restrict citizens’ access to official news and information and may limit the accountability of ministers and officials to the Fijian public. He also affirmed that it should be the “general duty” of the Government and public bodies to provide information to the citizens.

“The model in this Bill is based on the notion that the citizen is an alien who is not to be trusted and will be given minimal or no information at all,” Mr Dakuvula said. According to him, the bill  “should be about the implementation of the right of the people [to acquire information] from the government, or agencies of the government, that people want or need to know.”

Vani Catanasiga, representative of the group Bua Urban Youth Network (BUY) echoed Davakalua’s concerns. Catanasiga argued that freedom of information is fundamental for citizens to make informed decisions and also addressed the Bill’s proposal to put a price on information’s availability.

“BUY wishes to express its disagreement with aspects of Division 2, Clause 12 which outlines that public agencies may impose a charge for the expenses involved in making information available,” she said.

These charges could indeed prevent and discourage people from accessing and communicating information. The Bill could thus not only harm the citizens’ right to information but would also significantly impact the ability of media to provide news.

Dakuvula argued media is indeed the primary way in which citizens can keep themselves informed about the Government’s actions, and it is thus vital for the effective function of a democratic society.

“The media should be able to obtain more information under a Freedom of Information Act if it is to develop and enhance its investigative, analytical and explanatory role,” he said.