Saturday, November 15, 2008

Global Voices version of the contempt letters affair

IRONICALLY, possibly the most informative summary of how Fiji bloggers have reacted to the "draconian prosecution" of the press, has been written by one, John Liebhardt, who has filed a few recent "overview" blogs on Global Voices about Fiji, ranging from the People's Charter to the environment. It doesn't seem to bother Liebhardt that he has been filing from (of all places) Ouagadougou in the African state of Burkina Faso - where he has lived for the past four years. (The IFJ statement statement is still the most direct challenge.) His latest blog on the contempt letters affair involving the Fiji Times and Daily Post kicks off:

For the second time this month, Fiji’s military government has threatened to send a newspaper editor and its publisher to prison for publishing a letter to the editor alleged to be in contempt of court. In mid-October, the Fiji Times and Fiji Daily Post printed a letter from a certain Vili Navukitu of Queensland, Australia, complaining about a recent high court ruling that legitimized the actions of the country’s president in dissolving the Parliament, and the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, immediately following the December 2006 coup that brought into power Commodore Frank Bainamairama.

The item has a few selected quotes from blogs, most anonymous and critical of the regime, but doesn't acknowledge that (1) the letter is arguably in contempt in the first place (although the response of the regime is overkill over what is vigorous debate); (2) contempt doesn't only apply to current court proceedings and the potential for impacting on a case, but also involves "scandalising" a court; (3) news media in Fiji clearly need to lift their game over the professional editing of letters. In countries like New Zealand, news media routinely check the bone fides of letter writers and edit letters over matters such as good taste and potential defamation (and potential contempt). There are also frequent allegations of bias over editorial selection of letters. In fact, letters is the largest category for complaints over fairness and balance against newspapers.

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