Showing posts with label fiji high court. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiji high court. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Judicial High Noon for Fiji Times leaves media ‘independence’ teetering

Fiji Times chief editor Fred Wesley ... suspended jail sentence. Photo: Media Freedom in the Pacific
video frame/Cafe Pacific
HARD on the heels of a new decree by Fiji’s military-backed regime effectively gagging reporting about political parties no longer officially “registered”, the country’s most influential newspaper Fiji Times has been clobbered judicially. It has paid a tough price - including a F$300,000 fine and suspended jail sentence for the editor - for “scandalising” the judiciary over reprinting a story from a national New Zealand Sunday newspaper on its sport pages.

“Within Fiji's media industry it is expected that this heavy fine will knock the publication out of business,” writes Fairfax’s Michael Field, a long-time critic of the regime. The draconian 2010 Fiji Media Industry Development Decree, although not involved in this contempt of court case, was widely believed to be aimed at the Fiji Times group, especially a punitive curb aimed at divesting foreign ownership to a maximum of 10 percent. This forced Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney-based News Limited group to cut its losses and sell out completely in 2010 to one of the newspaper's long-standing Fiji directors, Mahendra “Mac” Patel and his Motibhai Group.

“Is ‘Mac” Patel  a fit and proper person to preside over the stewardship of Fiji’s oldest newspaper, founded in Levuka in 1869?,” asks Grubsheet columnist Graham Davis, a media advocate for the regime, noting the businessman had already served a year-long jail sentence for abuse of office when he was chairman of Fiji Post. “The continuing drama at the Fiji Times still has a long way to go.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Found guilty, but Fiji Times will fight on for free speech

WHILE the media fraternity was aghast at the assault on media freedom with the High Court verdict holding The Fiji Times in contempt over a letter to the editor, the newspaper itself was rather philosophical. But it made it very clear it intends to challenge the ruling on free speech issues. Its editorial "The law must take its course" today said:

We accept our guilt and will endeavour never to appear before the courts again. This newspaper will be the first to accept that the judiciary must exist in any real democracy. It will also defend the rights of our people to an independent judicial system. We must point out, however, that we do not necessarily agree with all of the judgment, and we do not agree with the penalties imposed on us by the judgment. There are avenues open to this newspaper to appeal and we will pursue these vigorously, as is our right.
Photo: Fiji Times picture of lawyer Richard Naidu (left) and acting publisher Rex Gardner outside court.


The bad news is that the penalties are extraordinarily harsh for what some might regard as fairly mild criticism of the judiciary in Fiji (published on the FT website on 22 October 2008 and condemning a judgment finding the Bainimarama coup in 206 not illegal). But Justice Thomas Hickie, an Australian, regarded the comments as "scandalous". These are indeed Orwellian times in the Pacific nation. The good news is that the punishment wasn't as bad as the military-backed regime had wanted - ie. a $1 million fine and actual jail terms for the paper's editor-in-chief and acting publisher. In fact, the paper was fined F$100,000. The court also imposed a three-month jail sentence suspended for two years on editor-in-chief Netani Rika and a conditional discharge for acting publisher Rex Gardner on good behaviour for 12 months. The newspaper has also been ordered to pay a $50,000 good behaviour bond for two years.


International Federation of Journalists led the charge of media outrage. Sydney-based Asia-Pacific director Jacqueline Park said: "The court's decision has serious implications for Fiji's media and the right to free expression in an environment where freedom of the press has been sorely tested over the past year." The IFJ is worried about this verdict as a backdrop to the regime's planned new media law, which some are predicting to be draconian. But some local journalists on the ground also regard it as a "wake up call" over ethics, morality, responsibility and the subjudice laws when they say material published by Fiji papers has frequently breached the boundaries. Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Radio Australia - putting his own spin on the judgment - that "standards have [been] completely thrown out the window". The AG ticked off many journalists from Australia and NZ for seemingly "dropping their standards" while in Fiji and condemned "trial by media". He added that he thought it would be a judgment widely cited in Commonwealth jurisdictions.

Ironically, a three-member Fiji Media Council independent review team has been meeting in Suva this week looking at media accountability and freedom issues. The Media Council itself declined to comment on the court ruling. The next question is what will happen to the Fiji Daily Post - more of the same? A verdict is expected in April.

Meanwhile, announcing a new blog devoted to Fiji affairs, Professor Croz Walsh says:

NZ media coverage of the Fiji situation has been so unbalanced that most New Zealanders see no difference between the Fiji and Zimbabwe situations. A friend told me yesterday: "That Bainimarama. he's just another Mugabe." Fiji media is more balanced but even then the ratio of negative to positive views is about 3:1. Today's court news from Fiji is sure to further demonstrate the need for a blog to offer some sort of balance.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bias over the Fiji charter legal rebuff

YET ANOTHER example of local Fiji media bias ushered in the weekend editions of the press, this time over the High Court ruling that all work must halt on the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. The Daily Post, for example, editorialised in its front page splash story "Charter halted": "Fiji is finally moving forward."

Inexcusable for an intro on the court ruling purporting to be fact. Of course, the next sentence attributed the opinion to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (who incidentally became appointed caretaker prime minister after the George Speight coup in May 2000, thanks to the military). Now, the editorial handling of the story wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the media group is steered by Qarase's first cousin while the editor is his son-in-law.

Secondly, a ruling hours later by the Court of Appeal's Justice John Byrne actually imposing a stay on the judgment by Justice Filimoni Jitoko (until a substantive appeal hearing on Thursday, November 20) didn't get mentioned in the story. (However, it was flagged in a downpage strapline). The regime is seeking a judicial review on the ground that under the Proceedings Act the court cannot order an injunction against the state. Fijilive reported it this way as main news item: Charter work to continue, stay granted: "The interim government has successfully acquired a court injunction that will allow the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to resume work on the People’s Charter."

Other local coverage wasn't much better. Fiji free press at work? Some of the international media coverage was an improvement. Australian Associated Press reported: "Fiji's High Court has delivered a blow to the country's military-led government, ordering it to halt work on a document that would usher in constitutional changes." But even then, it didn't reveal all the fishhooks involved in the legal minefield.

Over at Avaiki Nius, Jason Brown has highlighted a persistent Pacific media problem - no-shows at donor expense. Another good read at the Pacific Media Centre is the latest fallout from the Niu FM saga earlier this year. But things are definitely on the mend. Pere Maitai is doing some great things in rebuilding the news service.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Draconian Fiji responses to 'contempt'

FIJI'S JUDICIAL responses to contempt by two local newspapers become sillier and sillier. The contempt laws for scandalising the court were never meant to stifle vigorous debate about court rulings. Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive Rev Akuila Yabaki says the draconian prosecutions "stifle free speech in an oppressive manner". The paranoid climate around the judiciary following last month's controversial High Court judgment declaring the post-coup regime to be legitimate is deteriorating. The contempt proceedings against the Fiji Times, after the newspaper's apology about an online letter to the editor, and now the action against the Daily Post are vindictive. The Attorney-General's office is pressing for the jailing of publisher Rex Gardner and editor Netani Rika.

Quite rightly, the actions have drawn protests from the International Federation of Journalists, representing some 600,000 journos worldwide - which has also taken the opportunity to challenge the regime's plans for a "media promulgation" law. IFJ said it was deeply concerned that "while Fiji's military government is spruiking its draft media law as a means to encourage media freedom and freedom of expression, an independent newspaper is being forced to defend contempt charges for publishing the opinion of a member of the public with which the government disagrees."

For the record, former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry has not dropped his F$1 million defamation case against the Fiji Times as reported by the paper - he has merely amended the claim to drop the parent company, Murdoch's News Limited, from the proceedings.

A-G given 14 days to submit on Fiji Times penalty
Another Fiji daily held in contempt
IFJ statement
Push to jail Fiji Times editor
'We're in contempt' - and full text of the offending letter
Chaudhry's lawyer files amended claims

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hot chili courts - Happy Diwali!


MORE from one of Café Pacific's "coconet wireless" correspondents with a satirical touch:

One can love Fiji. It truly is unique among the Pacific Islands. After more than 20 years and four or five coups, three High Court judges decided that the acts of the President after the December 2006 military coup were lawful; that the President had reserve power to ratify the acts of the military in the takeover; to grant immunity to those who did the coup; and that he could act without any specific authority derived from the Constitution.
Hot on this decision by the courts arrives a comment by Pacific Islands Forum Chairman Toke Talagi that the court ruling on the legality of the interim Government and its promulgations will
perpetuate Fiji's coup culture.
I am so excited as I really thought that the coups in Fiji were going to end. That's what the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) have been telling me and they must be worried. For just on a year they have been talking about change, peace and progress and a better Fiji for all. The draft charter - all 200,000 copies of them all say in English, Hindi and Fijian - we love you all - Indo-Fijians, indigenous Fijians and Others. I fall into that last category, I am sure.
Fiji is special. There is plenty of generosity and it comes from unusual sources. Mick Beddoes, big in body and even bigger in generosity has just returned the $100 he received from the NCBBF when he attended one of its opening meetings. At that time he obviously believed in building a better Fiji, but then perhaps he thought better of that dangerous idea and left.
Since then he has been accused of taking the $100 meeting attendance money and using it for his own benefit. His cry to the moon and the nation at large that he had to cover his transport costs went unheeded.
So now, the money comes back to the government. The media quoted
Mick Beddoes saying that he was requesting a payment of only 46 cents an hour. Good old Mick. We need more people like him. But he could have been more generous and given the money to the poor and his 46 cents too, when he gets it. After all we have one in three people here living in poverty. Even 46 cents buys half a loaf of bread. The poor can fish anyway. Who knows what good could be done with half a loaf and some small fish?
I noted in my newspaper reading that Manasa Lasoro, one of the leaders of the Methodist church was lamenting that many of the prison inmates in Fiji prisons are Methodists. I would advise him not to worry. There are long term benefits. The government pays for food and accommodation of those members who wander in a wayward manner from his flock. That allows more money for him and his leaders to travel around the country band to denounce the People's Charter with its message of love, jobs, housing, education, health care and equal votes.
I would also advise Manasa Lasaro to also see his problems with his wayward flock in relation to the National Census of last year that shows that the Indo-Fijian population has decreased by 27,227. Now, I think many of those people went overseas, as they are obviously not in prison with his Methodist flock. Besides, I assume they were possibly Hindus.
If the Methodist Church waits long enough they will surely get rid of all those annoying Indo-Fijian families who were born here and work hard to educate their children, to toil in the canefields and to worship in small temples that are destroyed in a regular manner, by, I assume, Methodists - no, I had better say wayward Christians.
Getting rid of these annoying people is merely a matter of time and some army support. All we need are more army coups and more time to can raise the migration figures of Indo-Fijian to go overseas until there are none of them left. Then we will have completed two tasks. every Indo-Fijian and their religion too will be gone and
the coups will stop.
But, and here is the irony. We need many more coups before every Indo-Fijian will have migrated to those two horrible places called Australia and New Zealand. There are still 311, 591 Indo-Fijians in the country, according to the last census. We have a task ahead.
How many years will it take - this equation includes - some more racism, certainly a few coups and more education for Indo-Fijians so as to increase the pace of migration and make them more acceptable to New Zealand and Australia.
What names would I advise to sit on any Royal Commission on Fijian Migration? I could start with Mr Qarase and a few leaders from the Methodist Church who for the last two years have been talking as if they are the only Gods and know the correct answers. Yet, these are the very people who befitted from the actions of one Mr George Speight, a former coup leader who is still in prison.
When all Indo-Fijians have left the country, Mr Speight could then instruct the forever increasing Methodist population of the prisons to rise up and protest. And guess what, the army would then have some nasty suppression work to do, while the Indo-Fijians, who will be now Indo-Aussies and Indo-Kiwis will celebrate their Diwali in peace.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bye bye Qarase - a bula morning in the Fiji High Court

A BOMB threat cleared the Fiji High Court today, but the end result was a damp squib for the coup critics' camp. Coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama won his ruling in court and it was bye bye Laisenia Qarase. The deposed prime minister's attempt to have the December 2006 coup declared in breach of the 1997 constitution failed. One of Café Pacific's e-scribes was on hand to record some wry impressions:

In offices they listened and watched as Fiji TV carried the court findings live and radio boomed out around the nation. On the streets they listened. On the island of Laisenia Qarase, people were glued to the live radio broadcast.
It was Judgment Day - and a big one too.
Qarase lost his case. The Fijian Constitution still stands and that’s that.
The President has direct powers to rule. He has used them and he has the right to use them until the next election is ready.
He was given a long lead time – at least no date was hinted at for the election. When the time is ready for the elections, it’s ready.
Bainimarama must be laughing all the way to his office today, dancing and firing guns in the air. The kava bowls will be filled over many times.
So goes the judgment. And there was not implied - but direct criticism - voiced against both Australia and New Zealand for their travel bans against the interim government.
As for the judge who read the judgment, it took him around two hours in all with a break for coffee and biscuits. And was it wordy? – Oh yes.
We had references to precedents in England, Scotland,
the Philippines, Colonial India and World Two in Burma.
I heard the name John Locke and 1688. I lost the plot now and again, and returned to it between my cups of coffee. But then the three judges needed breaks too.
At the end of the judgment, the judge apologised to the various legal counsel for small typographical errors, and said he was would send electronic correct copies to them during the afternoon.
He also gave a gentle barbed reply on trees, conservation and paper to a counsel who asked about getting a corrected printed copy of the judgment.

The Fiji interim regime wasted no time in calling for cooperation and support for its election plans and constitutional legal specialist Professor Bill Hodge, of Auckland University, says many governments previously opposed to the regime can now be expected to recognise the government as legitimate.

Meanwhile, University of the South Pacific political scientist Steve Ratuva has done a handy analysis on the real power plays at work in Fiji - something vastly better than has been seen from the local flacks for months.

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