By Cafe Pacific
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
WITH all the kudos being handed out to The Fiji Times in the context of the Great FT Firesale being heralded in regime circles due to the foreign ownership cutback to 10 percent in the controversial media decree, it is important to reflect on the other side of the ledger. What has the newspaper actually done in terms of future development of the country and training of the media? Café Pacific has received a bagful of off-the-record comments about the Fiji Times. While it is a very mixed bag, a general theme comes through about the Media Industry Development Decree 2010: The chickens have finally come to roost for the Murdoch newspaper group - owned through an Australian subsidiary, News Ltd. The reflections here of a former staff person are worth sharing:
During my time I do not recall anyone going on any kind of training. There was no such thing as an in-house training programme. We were thrown in the deep end, which was at the time traumatising.
The paper has not invested much in training and staff development. While it claims it has invested in training, it never discloses any figures.
Unlike other News Limited publications, in Australia, there is no such thing as a transparent salary structure at the Fiji Times. You couldn't move up the salary scale on an annual basis (since there was/is no such thing as a salary scale).
Pay increases were made at the editor’s/publisher’s whim. Because there was no salary scale, two, three or more years could pass before one received a salary increases. You had to ask/argue for a salary increase. Rarely, if ever, was it automatically granted.
Management wilfully used this tactic to keep salaries low since it is not easy to go up to the editor to ask for an increase. When salary increases were granted, they were marginal; sometimes not even enough to cover the rate of inflation. It was worse than the civil service where the salaries were annually adjusted to the inflation rate.
Does News Ltd operate in this manner in Australia? The Fiji Times was never keen to retain experienced staff. Instead, it let them go so younger inexperienced people could be hired at a cheaper rate. The Fiji Times thought it was clever but this penny-pinching has caught up with it and bitten it in the backside.
Despite claims by Ann Fussell that they are 100 per cent pro-Fiji, the company has used lack of legislation etc in this county to exploit its employees. It has done little to uplift standards.
Foreign publishers tried to outdo their predecessors in increasing annual profits in order to better their prospects at News Ltd. Their own career prospects were the driving force for foreign publishers — lifting journalistic standards or treating staff decently was not a priority as this lessened profits.
The Fiji Times became so mean that it [frequently] stopped sending its sports reporters to places like Hong Kong Sevens, South Pacific Games and on national soccer team tours. The Fiji Times has not had a decent editor since Vijendra Kumar left [who was in the editor's chair at the time of the first coups in 1987 - he retired to Australia].
Editors have blatantly used their positions to further personal agendas and to support political parties they favour. This took a dangerous and sinister turn during [first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister] Chaudhry’s term in government in 1999/2000. I am no fan of Chaudhry, but the then editor-and-chief and a certain reporter were clearly out to topple the Coalition government.
At such times, the Australian company headquarters should have intervened, given that the reporter concerned was having an affair with the prime minister who had been ousted by the Labor Coalition, and she clearly had a vendetta.
Nevertheless, The Fiji Times [founded in 1869] is still a Fiji icon and it should not close. All these problems outlined above can be resolved with the right goodwill. Sustainable local ownership of The Fiji Times is a pipedream and it will be a disaster for both Fiji and the Pacific region if the current owners are forced to bail out.