SYDNEY — Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd. is selling Fiji's leading newspaper to meet foreign ownership rules imposed by the military government as part of a crackdown on media freedoms.
News Ltd., the Australian branch of Murdoch's global media empire, announced Wednesday it had struck a deal to sell the Fiji Times to Fijian businessman Mahendra Motibhai Patel.
Details were not disclosed.
Fiji's military-installed government introduced new regulations in June that required the newspaper company to make 90 per cent of its shareholders Fijian citizens within three months or face closure.
The measures were part of a media crackdown by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup and has installed censors in major television, newspaper and radio outlets to limit criticism of his rule.
Foreign reporters and media managers have been expelled, and dozens of local journalists arrested and interrogated.
"We are reluctant sellers of the Fiji Times, but I am delighted that we have been able to find a buyer who will take over the business as a going concern, respect its heritage and invest in its future," News Ltd. CEO John Hartigan said in a statement.
The sale of Pacific Publications (Fiji) Ltd. to Motibhai & Co. Ltd. is subject to regulatory approval in Fiji and was expected to be finalized on Sept. 22, the statement said.
Patel was a non-executive director of the Fiji Times. He is a co-founder of the Motibhai Group, a diversified business with interests in importation, retailing and commercial real estate among other things, according to its website.
Motibhai said the Fiji Times would operate as an independent unit of the group, and that the new owners would try to ensure the paper remained the one preferred by most Fijians.
Bainimarama last year accused the Times and Fiji TV, the country's largest broadcaster, of being "perverse" and biased for not recognizing his government.
News Ltd. and Motibhai did not mention the government in their joint statement Wednesday.