Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Media protest over Hunter expulsion from Fiji

Still smarting from last week's embarrassing allegations by the Fiji Sun, Fiji TV and - particularly Netani Rika's Saturday expose in the Fiji Times accusing and naming interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry over his tax affairs, the regime hasn't wasted much time in turning its rage onto the messenger. In this case, Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter (pictured) was on a one-way plane ride from Fiji to Oz today after eight years in the country (plus a previous spell when he was forced out by Chaudhry when he was PM before the Speight coup in 2000). Chaudhry declared he was filing defamation writs against both the Sun and the Fiji Times. Media organisations have vented their outrage at the arbitrary move, claimed to be because Hunter was deemed a 'security risk'. The Fiji Media Council said it was shocked by the seizure then expulsion of Hunter, especially as he still had a further 18 months to run on his work permit. Chairman Daryl Tarte protested in a statement:
The action by the Immigration Department, with the approval of the Minister, was taken without due process being followed, without regard for is fundamental rights, without him having access to legal advice, nor any consideration for the plight of his family. He was taken from his home at 8.30 at night and transported to Nadi airport. Furthermore, the deportation took place despite an order from the High Court in Suva restraining the Director of Immigration from deporting Mr Hunter. The Minister’s justification for the deportation is that he is a prohibited immigrant under the new immigration act that came into force on January 3, 2008. No specific details of what Mr Hunter is supposed to have done were given.
Hunter said on arrival in Australia the Fiji media should carry on undeterred. Asked why he had been declared a 'prohibited immigrant', he said: "In my view, the fact that we revealed Mahendra Chaudhry's tax evasion and secret overseas bank accounts."
Interviewed on Radio NZ International, I warned of a new crackdown on Fiji media, adding: "The regime thinks the media should perform a parrot-like role but there is a long tradition of vigorous and free journalism in Fiji. The current media are upholding that tradition very well."

UNSURPRISINGLY, Dr Jim Anthony, who made headlines last year as the controversial choice to head an "inquiry" into the media organised by the Fiji Human Rights Commission, fired off a salvo to the Fiji Times : "... Good riddance to bad rubbish. All other foreign journalists on work permits in Fiji ought to be put on notice: all their permits will not be renewed. Fiji ought to get its act together and train and promote its own people to report the news fairly, accurately and in a balanced way right across the board ... Australia and New Zealand are not necessarily the only beacons of hope or measures of decency in the world." Among other major flaws, Anthony's media report was astoundingly flimsy about the degree of training and education that does go on in Fiji, ie the long-established University of the South Pacific journalism and diploma degree programmes and also the fledgling FIT course. (Netani Rika's view of the report? "Malicious, full of conjecture and untruths" ).
In an editorial headed WE ARE NO THREAT, the Fiji Times said: "The deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter as a security risk to this nation is deplorable. And his treatment as a human being was reprehensible. Taken from his home under the cover of darkness, he was driven to Nadi without being given time to change or say a word of farewell to his wife Martha and their daughter ... Even convicted fraudster Peter Foster was treated better than Mr Hunter."

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