Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Church column pulled by Fiji's military censors

Updated Fri Apr 24, 2009 3:09pm AEST
Fiji's censors have struck again, this time a Methodist Minister has fallen foul of the military regime for making a brief mention of the economic slowdown in his column titled "Prayer is Action". The offending column was pulled from publication in the Fiji Times, and the Reverend James Bhagwan has now stopped writing his column altogether in protest to the ban.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Methodist Church of Fiji Minister Reverend James Bhagwan

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: The words that they didn't like were, what I understand, was the story did not meet the, their criteria because I intimated that there was a local financial economic crisis as well as there was some political situation going on in Fiji and that was all I was saying, was that given the global and local economic challenges and situation that we're struggling in, in Fiji at the moment and the current political situation that prayer is very important aspect to give people the opportunity to feel that there is something that they don't have to be frustrated or feel impotent, that prayer is a form of action that they can take.

GERALDINE COUTTS: You've also had some strong things to say about, I suppose, a parallel between the Easter celebrations and what you think's happening in the country at the moment.

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: I led a Good Friday service here in Suva and immediately after the service finished I walked out to hear the President abrogate the Constitution. Being in the frame of mind of just coming and, after commemorating the crucifiction of Christ, not a far jump for me to assume that that was the day the nation was crucified as well. And you know, the feeling of people around the town, the looks on people's faces, the pain, the very sad thing is that people are not able to, if we are not able to articulate our emotions, express ourselves, that frustration builds up and my concern is that if people are not allowed to express themselves verbally, then what happens? What other avenues do people then express themselves. If it's physically, and they're not allowed to do that on the street then they may do that at home to the members of their family as well.

GERALDINE COUTTS: Your column has been censored. Are you not going to do the column anymore, and how does that compare with the journalists who are trying to work full time at this now?

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: My heart really goes out to the journalists and those working in the media under these extremely bad conditions. I mean, to have people coming in and deciding what articles to run, what don't run, the subeditors have to work extremely long hours until the censors are satisfied that that's the paper that they want to go out. I really feel for them but I don't feel comfortable writing a column that does not express my true feelings. And so, there are other ways to do so, the Internet is still free to the people so until they cut us off from that one, I'll go on the Internet.

GERALDINE COUTTS: You mentioned there, Reverend Bhagwan, that your letters didn't meet their criteria. What is the criteria that the censors have imposed?

REV JAMES BHAGWAN: Well, basically that, you know, there are no insightful comments and you know, we don't basically want, well, they don't basically want us to discuss anything of a political nature.

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