|Déjà vu: Fiji Times picture of lawyer Richard Naidu (left) and then acting publisher |
Rex Gardner outside court at the 2009 contempt case judgment in Suva.
PERHAPS I am a discordant voice among those willing to cheer the Fiji Times into the ground over this month's judicial controversy. But I am intrigued to know where is the judicial outrage, contempt of court proceedings, government sabre-rattling etc. over this Fiji Sun case, which I understand is still outstanding?: Court report contains errors
Read through the whole list of complaints that Christopher Pryde makes – four detailed complaints of basic "gross" errors of fact and two complaints relating to "impressions given" about the competency and professionalism of the Director Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Now close your eyes and imagine that The Fiji Times had made those same mistakes. See what I mean?
In the 2008 instance, the Fiji Times pleaded guilty after publishing a letter on October 22 that was critical of the judiciary. The FT wrote a fulsome and contrite apology, and pleaded guilty in court, but received substantial fines and one suspended jail sentence ("extraordinarily harsh for what some might regard as fairly mild criticism" - journalism professor David Robie on Café Pacific).
A virtually identical letter [as in the FT] was published word for word in the Daily Post on October 17 but, judging by the returnable dates, contempt of court proceedings against the Post [now defunct] do not appear to have been started until after the Fiji Times action. I can find no record online of what the status is of the AG’s action against the Daily Post. But I think it’s a reasonable inference to draw that although both newspapers made the same mistake, one newspaper’s mistake was a greater than the other. (Or to quote Robie again: "These are indeed Orwellian times in the Pacific nation.")
It is important to remember that both the 2008 and current situation were crimes of omission rather than commission. Although the newspaper has the ultimate responsibility for anything it chooses to publish, in neither case did the Fiji Times originate the offending material, in neither case did they make such elementary factual errors as Pryde alleges the Fiji Sun did, in neither case did their journalists themselves create such a negative impression of the DPP.
So if one were to ask is there one rule for all, applied without fear or favour, what would the answer be?
Perhaps a clue: we found out today the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree, which precipitated the sale of the Fiji Times from Murdoch to the "convicted felon" Mahenda Patel, as Grubsheet calls him, has been handily amended to give the state-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) a huge advantage over its media competitors in radio and television in Fiji.
Turns out that FBC can get into bed with any foreign entity it wants, and needs only a stake of 15 percent and one seat on the board (according to Fijivillage.com).
Oh, and of course, my third point was that the recent amendment to the Media Decree presents us with the bitterly ironic situation that while the Decree proper cast Murdoch/News Ltd as inappropriate to hold anything more than 10 percent of the Fiji Times, the amendment means that the very same Murdoch/News Ltd is completely fit to hold up to 85 percent ownership of the far more lucrative pay TV market so long as the other 15 percent (and one seat on the board, as quoted by Fiji Village) is held by a government-owned media entity – of which there is only one.
Declaration of interest: I used to work at The Fiji Times both as a journalist and subeditor, and for the Daily Post. I have not worked for the Fiji Sun but I was involved in the Fiji Rugby Union’s decision to ban the Fiji Sun after documents from the Registrar of Companies showed a prominent rugby writer at the newspaper was a shareholder in a sports promotion company that the writer used to spruik relentlessly through the paper’s sports pages.
- This item was originally posted on Grubsheet as a comment today and has been republished here with Charlie's permission.
- Fiji: Bloggers debate 'harsh' newspaper penalty - Global Voices
- Found guilty, but Fiji Times will fight on for free speech - Café Pacific
- Advocacy group fears more media self-censorship after clampdown - Pacific Media Watch