By AFP, WELLINGTON — The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on Monday denied reports that a rival had offered to buy its Fiji Times title, following a crackdown on foreign media ownership.
The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and news website fijivillage reported that the Fiji Sun had expressed interest in buying the Times, owned by News Corp's Australian arm News Limited.
But Fiji's competition watchdog had rejected the proposal fearing a newspaper monopoly in the Pacific island nation, the reports said.
News Limited flatly denied that the Sun was involved.
"I'd have to say that those reports are false," a spokesman in Sydney told AFP.
The spokesman, however, said the sale process for the Fiji Times was "well advanced" but declined to provide further details, including who the potential buyer was.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama's military regime passed a decree in June that ruled all media must be 90 percent locally owned, casting doubt over the future of the country's largest circulation newspaper, established in 1869.
News Limited has until the end of September to reduce its stake in the Fiji Times after Bainimarama set a three-month deadline until the new laws came into force.
The company said in June that auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers would assess the value of the business, potential buyers and marketing it for a possible sale.
The Fiji government has censored news outlets since it came to power in a 2006 coup.
The media decree also introduced stiff fines and possible prison sentences for journalists, editors and media companies that produced reports deemed to be against the public or national interest.
Bainimarama has accused some media outlets of promoting instability and said he needed to take a hard line against critics as he prepares the country for elections promised in 2014.