#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Fiji Times team continues to put paper to bed as it awaits its fate

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fiji Times team continues to put paper to bed as it awaits its fate

By James Chessell of the Australian

The Fiji Times editor Netani Rika goes to work each day knowing about one in five stories placed on the pages each night will be removed.

The censors became part of the daily news cycle when they appeared on the editorial floor the day after the military-backed government abrogated the constitution in April last year.

Each night they are given page proofs and strike out any story, headline, cartoon or letter they think may offend Commodore Frank Bainimarama's regime. Even seemingly innocuous stories about the poor upkeep of rural roads are dumped.

Rika (pictured above) and his night editors have become adept at predicting which stories will be dumped and prepare a B-list of reserve copy to fill the holes. Stories that fail to get approval are not adjusted to suit the censor, making their job more difficult.

Rika acknowledges there was "a lot animosity" at first, even among Fijian journalists already accustomed to intimidation. An entire page was left blank on the first day -- save for a box stating "the stories on this page could not be published due to government restrictions" -- while Fiji Television canned a news bulletin that night. But rather than slip into self-censorship, a decision was made at The Fiji Times not to change the way journalists reported or edited the news.

"I don't think anybody else here thought there was a way to approach the situation," says Rika. "If we decided to take the easy way out and not to go out and cover stories that we thought may not make it into the paper, we would be developing a newsroom in which people were no longer objective or free-thinking."

For most journalists, these would be soul-destroying working conditions. Yet the challenges facing Fijian media got tougher last week when the government released The Media Industry Development Decree, a sprawling 36-page document that tightens state control over local newspapers, radio, television and internet.

The decree makes it a crime to produce "content" which "is against the public interest or order" or "creates communal discord" or even produce an article of more than 50 words without a byline. Any breach of these rules is punishable by up to two years' jail.

"There is a clear risk that the law's vaguely worded provisions will be used to punish peaceful critics of the government," says Claire Mallinson, national director of Amnesty International Australia.
The decree makes life difficult for journalists in a number of ways. It introduces a new code of ethics that requires reporters to tell interviewees if they intend to interview anybody else in connection with the story to be published or broadcast. This is problematic given that stories often evolve after each conversation and it is difficult to nominate every interviewee beforehand.

The biggest controversy, however, is a new rule requiring Fiji's media outlets to be 90 per cent locally owned. This is particularly problematic for The Fiji Times, which is wholly owned by News Limited (publisher of The Australian), and the much smaller The Fiji Daily Post, which is majority-owned by Australian Alan Hickling. The impact of this particular part of the decree is not expected to be as great on Fiji TV or Communications Fiji, the main radio broadcaster.

However, new cross-media ownership conditions have created uncertainty for Communications Fiji managing director William Parkinson, whose company also operates stations in Papua New Guinea.

"We are seeking legal advice, plus guidance from the South Pacific Stock Exchange on this matter and will brief the market fully once this advice is received," Mr Parkinson told Fiji media last week.

And businessman Hari Punja caught be a forced seller of one his investments since he owns shares in both Communications Fiji and Fiji TV.

The decree was lambasted as anti-democratic by many observers, including Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association and News Limited boss John Hartigan.

"This is deeply sad and a blow to a free press," says PANPA chief executive Mark Hollands. "It was never in doubt the Fijian regime would follow through on its threat to remove foreign newspaper publishers."

Fiji's permanent secretary for information, the Australian Sharon Smith-Johns, says the crackdown on foreign ownership has nothing to do with getting rid of News or further curbing The Fiji Times' criticism of Bainimarama's administration.

In an interview with ABC radio last week, she said the government was simply putting in "similar rules to Singapore, to Australia to New Zealand". No such restrictions exist in Australia or NZ. (Smith-Johns told The Australian to email her questions for this article last week but had declined to respond in time for publication.)

It seems clear to most observers that the crackdown on foreign ownership was directed at The Fiji Times. Founded in 1869, the paper is the country's largest media company, with an average Monday to Friday circulation of about 19,000. The paper frustrated Bainimarama and his attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, more than any other outlet once the ABC's Sean Dorney was deported last year. The Fiji Times tends to be less compliant than the locally owned outlets. Its refusal to run government press releases "as is" is a particular point of frustration for Sayed-Khaiyum and the paper receives no government advertising.

The government had already ignored the wishes of the High Court ruling and deported The Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah in 2008. But those close to the newspaper say Sayed-Khaiyum made it clear during the "consultation process" for the decree that News's days in Fiji were numbered.

The government's argument is summed up by Satendra Nandan, a former Canberra-based academic and the chairman of Fiji's Media Industry Development Authority. Nandan told The Australian last week that Fiji had a vibrant media before the 2006 coup but it then it became "abusive and scurrilous".

News now has three months to exit the newspaper it picked up through the acquisition of The Herald & Weekly Times in 1987.

The company has not entirely given up hope and may send a delegation to Suva in a last-ditch attempt to change the government's mind. Nevertheless, it is trying to find a buyer. "We are doing everything we can to keep The Fiji Times open," says a spokeswoman.

The newspaper is profitable and employs 180 staff. But executives in Australia and Fiji are unsure how long this will continue.

Without the benefits of News's backing -- which include cheaper rates for paper and greater training opportunities -- the paper will not be able to live up to its proud history.

For the time being, at least, it is business as usual. Rika expected "thing to fall apart" once the decree was made official but says he has "never seen the news team so united in their efforts".

"There is a certain amount of stoicism . . . but we turn up to work every day and continue to produce high-quality work," he says.


monkeys with guns said...

The forced closure of the Fiji times will have terrible social and economic impacts on the failing state of fiji. It will be the end of any independent press - all press will now be like the FBC and the ravings of lord haw haw - simply 'happy' stories like you would read in a travel brochure.
However here is a message to the whinging kubuabola - tell your criminal military baboons that they can stop the media in coup coup land but nowhere else - and if the monkeys with guns don't kije the 'brutal' tag tell them to stop bashing, intimidating and murdering real Fijians - the cowards!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah these guys are just a pain in da butt. A bunch of crooks trying to control everything in Viti.

Anonymous said...

Netani - remember you once labelled a cabinet minister as "chamcha" in the very same newspaper your are now fighting for. What you sow is what you reap. Now one is closing Fiji Times. Like Aust and NZ, Fiji now has a set of laws that need to be followed. All FT needs to do is sell its foreign owned shares to locals. The paper will still operate! Stop moaning like cats.

Moaning like pussies said...

All the coup perpetrators and coup apologists do is run around moaning like cats and blaming everybody else for their stupidity. Stop your moaning you fiji military pussies!!!

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show that the pen is mightier then the sword.

Anonymous said...

It is very simple. Netani as Editor in Chief defended SDL tooth and nail as democratically elected government being overthrown.

This is far from the truth and certainly not according to the 1997constitution.

Maybe, the Murdock's should terminate Netani as Editor in Chief before starting any negotiation with the regime.

If Netani was so correct then maybe Murdock can give him job in Australia.

Only then there will be hope to see the IG listening or willing to review their decision.

sara'ssista said...

The paper will still operate with the military holding them by the balls and squeezing everytime any sort of scrutiny is placed on them or an perceived negative commenst are made. Which means this regime can do whatever it like without any say from any future legal govenrment.These are not new laws the it is a decree by a self serving do as we say not as we do regime hell bent of giving themselves immunity form everything , including the media.

Ateca. V said...

anon 11.01 spoken like a true military clone. Your logic defies belief.

Bainimarama and his supporters are only in it to save their lousy hides - they have long lost the ability to think straight. Now all they want is for people to be quiet about their past sins, and hold this country's people to ransom because of it.

Sorry there are many of us who are not accepting this BS. We will fight tooth and nail to keep our essential rights and liberties - and this includes a free press.

Anonymous said...

Ateca.V, anon 11.01 is not military clone. BUT failing to accept facts as it stood and not giving that recognition in a swift timely manner has led to military taking a long ride.

For this reason the wrongs continue and "we all" suffer. If the correct democracy was followed pre-2006, or even recognising the wrongs, military would not have had time to settle down for a long haul.

Fault is of those SDL clone who understand democracy but cannot accept the facts as it stood pre-2006 elections.

You cannot hold the gun at the military and pride of democracy and expect military to continue to smile. It is still not too late if SDL sympethisers change their strategies. Only then there is hope for democracy to return. This is nothing personal, but a start to solution. Just another view point.

Anonymous said...

Frank summoned to Daejeon - Kubuabola waxing lyrical on 4th of July - Vaniqi rushing to London concerning doubts of current FSC contracts? Though regime now is -public as yet unaware of large predatory raptor circling above?

Somebody about to receive tough induction into real politic...

Anonymous said...

All journalists and any other media persons who are fed up of the corrupt Bainimarama military junta should go to Australia and apply for protection visa to live there.

The same applies to any other Fiji citizen who want a better life for their families.Please take your families and children to Aussie because their lives are wasted living in Fiji under this evil man.

Banimarama and the other corrupt and cowardly Fijian soldiers in the Fiji military make me ashamed to be a Fijian.They have given Fiji are bad reputation all over the world as being greedy, traitors,murderers and unprofessional soldiers.

Thank heavens other decent young Fijians serving in US, British, Australian, New Zealand and other armies are doing the country proud by fighting against the kind of terrorism that Bainimarama is putting Fiji under.

Ateca. V said...

Anon 11:57 - you are the same military clone ....pray give us the "facts". Your logic is illogical.

That you keep harping about the SDL shows your true colours - I look forward to your thesis about what your point is about SDL, about the "wrongs" and "the correct democracy". Oh and about "the facts" that we are obviously missing.

Your sentence "you cannot hold the gun at the military and pride of democracy .....etc " is absolute nonsense. In fact it sounds like you have been brainwashed into believing a mantra. You don't even understand what you are saying.

Yours is the viewpoint of a jaundiced military regime clone.

I look forward to your explanation of your entire paragraphs as above.