Showing posts with label mahendra chaudhry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mahendra chaudhry. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two out of three murder charges dropped in Fiji plot case

FIJI'S ASSASSINATION conspiracy case has taken a dramatic turn with the dropping of two of three charges against eight men indicted.

The eight - including a high chief - had been accused of plotting to assassinate the self-appointed Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, and two senior regime ministers in 2007.

Presiding judge Justice Paul Madigan dropped the charges of conspiracy to murder Mahendra Chaudhry and conspiracy to murder the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum because of “ambiguous” evidence.

The eight men now face one remaining count of conspiring to murder Bainimarama.

Fijilive reports:
Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Feoko Gadekibau, Barbedoes Mills, Metuisela Mua, Sivaniolo Naulago, Eperama Waqatairewa, Kaminieli Vosavere and Pauliasi Ramulo are now free on charges that they conspired to murder Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Mahendra Chaudhry.

The first count still stands and that is the [alleged] plan to kill the Army Commander.

First accused Ratu Inoke Takiveikata has opted to give sworn evidence from the witness box as the case on the first count proceeds.

Five local assessors are also presiding over the case, now into its fourth week.
Ironically, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum today also issued a statement calling on the regime to take urgent action over the independence of the judiciary. Reverend Akuila Yabaki, director of the CCF, called on the government to invite the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit Fiji as soon as possible.

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

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Muckraking honours and short memories

MUCKRAKERS have a long and proud tradition stretching back to Progressive era in the late 19th century United States. The term (from the Man with Muckrake in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress) was coined to describe those investigative journos exposing social ills and terrible conditions such as in slums and prisons, sweatshops, along with issues like child labour and food processing cheats. Some also exposed fraud and abuse in politics and corporations. Bethany McLean's Enron expose was a classic example in contemporary times.

And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.

There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:

The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.

As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):

This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.

A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).

Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times

Monday, September 8, 2008

Treason? I've got a little list

More from one of Café Pacific's Laucala correspondents who keeps a reality check on Fiji with a touch of satire ...

Fiji is funny. The coup is now generating humour and the past politicians are becoming hilarious. Eighteen months after the coup of December 2006 Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister was kicked out of government, his government house and his government car. He has now realised that something is wrong and become so incensed that he filed a treason complaint with the police on the grounds that the December 6 coup was illegal.

Treason. Doesn’t the word make you cringe, go pale with fear at being hanged, drawn and quartered or at least exiled for life to the island of St Helena where you will view the house where Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his glorious past, France, freedom and failure?

lodged his treason claims against a formidable group of people that include the Interim Prime Minister who led the coup, the Chief of Police who was an army officer and part of the coup. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you it was the coupmaster who made him Chief of Police.

But there are civilians on the alleged traitors list too. It includes the aged and dignified Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca and the 45 members of The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). One name on the list is John Samy, the gentle spoken boss of the NCBBF Secretariat who has led the way writing the People’s Charter with its message of love thy neighbour.

Dear John also appeared on the front page of (
The Fiji Sun, September 6) with his photograph and the headline "Coup was illegal: Samy". He denies saying that, but it brings a smile or scowl to the face, but which face or faces!

I’m not sure who all the 45 members of the NCBBF are but they include Mahendra Chaudhry, who must have got wind of the treason charge as he resigned from the council a few weeks ago and is now defending himself with a phalanx of political jargon. There are another 44 other people on that guilty council list. They include academics, traditional chiefs, business people, trade unionists, a woman from an NGO and a priest who has spent many years helping the poor.

Obviously this is a meddling priest. We all know that there only around half the nation live in poverty or damn near it. This priest says so little about the other half of the population. Now, there is prejudice for you, and as we learned from Qarase – treason!

Mick Beddoes, the former leader of the Opposition, is an interesting guy. Big in body, bold in voice and so convinced that he is right. He has now publicly supported the treasonous charge brought by Qarase and company against the army and those nasty NCBBF members.

But, wait, there is more. If you had watched the
Fiji TV news on Monday, September 8, there was a news item saying that Mick, the man, has joined the NCBBF when it started. He attended the meeting, took the allocated allowances and then resigned. So Mick, the man must also want to be in court in the defendants’ box when the treason trial begins. Good man, that Mick is, he recognises the error of his ways, and is preparing to suffer the consequences. I don’t know if he is Catholic or Methodist or whatever, but on St Helena, I am sure the Archbishop will give Mick good Christian counselling.

This Mikado story took another turn today. A former Fiji police commissioner said in a serious voice, so we would not laugh, that it would be difficult for the present police commissioner to be impartial in his investigations of the Qarase accusations, when he is also mentioned in the complaint, as being implicated in the coup.

Let me end with Major Lewini, the government spokesperson who seems to be
always lost for words, but who can make up for it with scowls and a few mumbled key phrases. Today he inferred that Qarase and his team are having foul fun and no good would come out it. Other men make the humour, Lewini is the straight man. We do need a reality check in Fiji, or at least in Suva, where all this stage cavorting is going on.

Last Sunday on TV, the interviewer was conducting a serious discussion on proposed new rules for the next general election. He said to one of the participants who was talking about recreating part of the political past, that the boat has already left the wharf. A neat metaphor.

The way I see it, the boat left the wharf during December 2006 and it’s getting further away. It’s difficult to see when it’s going to return and when it does, will it hit the wharf with a great wallop and damage both the people and the goods on board?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Seeking a more balanced media view of Fiji

The Fiji news media gets a lot of ticking off these days. And a major critic remains Interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who just last month branded the media as "divisive and racist", saying it should be "licensed". He claims the media isn't responsible with the freedom it has been given. This is a familiar theme, of course, and he has filed Fiji's biggest-ever damages claim for defamation.
There were very defensive rumblings from the media in response to the recent discredited Anthony report on the "freedom and independence of the media". And there have been allegations by media of computer hacking. This led to a strong Fiji Times editorial challenging the regime - "put up or shut up"!.
But the flaws of the Anthony report don't change his essential message - there are serious problems in the Fiji media about training/professionalism and credibility and they need to be addressed. If not, then the regime or a future Fiji government is likely to impose something that is draconian and counter-productive.
Yes, the regime is disreputable and civil liberties, press freedom and the rule of law have been trampled on after the military coup. But media reports, such as in New Zealand, giving the impression that Fiji is a "Zimbabwe in the Pacific" (at least prior to the apparent ousting of Mugabe from office), is far from the truth. But, as many media people in Fiji point out, those not on the ground in Fiji and reading the reports would be inclined to be alarmed. The international image of Fiji has taken a battering, resulting in pressure from overseas governments and their refusal to grant any concessions to the regime.
The regime shot itself in the foot also by some misguided actions and is rightly blamed for the state of affairs. But the media is able to question and criticise the regime at will. There is some intimidation but not like in the early days of the coup.
In fact, if the media is put under as much scrutiny as the regime, there are many flaws in the coverage, but the reporting "power" is held by the media. The hysteria over the de-reservation of land that was kicked up and stoked by the media was clumsy and revealed lack of depth in reporting and editorial skills.
A big deal was made about the fact that reporters would no longer be able to call up the interim PM on his cell phone. Somehow this was supposed to be a yardstick for "media freedom". Where else in the world can journalists call up a PM on the phone for interviews?
It has been forgotten that the military ousted a government that was racist, divisive, corrupt and inefficient and consorting with coup-makers. The difference was that the Qarase government was cynically using democracy and existing laws to legalise its racist and illegal policies.
One of Qarase's ministers referred to Indo-Fijians as "weeds taking up too much space" while some senators called reporters "Satan's agents". They were not even reprimanded. In his last days, Qarase, in a desperate bid to cling to power, tried to incite indigenous Fijians to rise against Indo-Fijians by claiming that they supported the military.
So the man was willing to see the shedding of blood to remain in power. It was another example of how callously some leaders use the people for their own benefit. The media, naïve as it is, has made a ruthless politician and a dangerous leader like Qarase, appear "angelical"!
The Qarase government should also share blame for the coup. Had it remained in power, it is quite likely we would have seen some coup-makers in Senate, Parliament, in plum government jobs and holding board memberships. It would have increased consumption tax to 15 per cent to pay for its reckless spending. This would have strangled the poor even further.
If not for the coup, the shenanigans at the Fiji National Provident Fund would not have come to light. The national pension scheme quite likely would have gone down the tubes as the National Bank of Fiji did. Under the Qarase regime, even the workers' pension scheme was not safe or sacred.
Fiji had become a magnet and haven for conmen and carpetbaggers. There is criticism that no "hard evidence" has been uncovered to prove widespread corruption as claimed. Corruption is never easy to prove, more so in a country like Fiji which simply does not have the expertise. But there is enough prima-facie and anecdotal evidence to show there was something very sick in many organisations.
Journalists in countries such as New Zealand need to be prepared do the research, talk to credible people and get a cross-section of views instead of repeatedly using biased sources who are often not even in Fiji. Constantly only talking to those hurt by the military and who have reasons to hate it, inevitably serve up a less than balanced view.
There are many people with an axe to grind against the military, and there is a danger of them using the media to achieve this end. Of course the media will be quick to deny any such possibility but we all saw how easily the media was manipulated during the Speight and Rabuka coups. The media needs to be careful that it doesn't inflame racial feelings and buy into imposed external solutions with a double standard. The struggle for democracy could easily explode into an Timor-Leste style catastrophe.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fiji Times 'voice of the people'

One of my Fiji journo colleagues has brought to Cafe Pacific's attention a few interesting letters on the Fiji Times Online website. An extract from one, headed Media bias, contrasted the lack of zeal in the investigative stakes when Qarase was in power compared with the Chaudhry expose:
"Yet here we have our deposed Prime Minister (Laisenia Qarase) charged with crimes during his tenure with FHL.
Why does the media not investigate Mr Qarase's case further?
It's been discussed in all sectors in the House of Representatives since early 1990s yet the media has done little to report this to the public.
I challenge the media to show what investigative reporting they have done so far with Mr Qarase's case or other cases such as Fiji Water."
Signed by Robert Rounds, of Lautoka.
An editorial response from the FT: "Mr Qarase's case is before the courts and we cannot report on it at this stage. We welcome information from the public which will help us with our investigations."
A bit more investigative probing at the time would have been helpful!
Another reader took a blast at ther local reporting and wondered why the coverage of the commission against corruption wasn't getting a better run.

Responsible media
"I NOTE the call for more responsibility in the media.
On a visit to Fiji, I must say I was shocked to see the newspapers taking an obvious bias against the interim Government.
Of course this administration has made mistakes (what government hasn't?) but it faces a constant chipping away by the press in particular
Surely the good things to come out of the interim Government such as the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) are worthy enough to note.
Responsibility in the media must include the exercise of discretion when to print and when not to print a story.
Just one week's reading of this long-time journal's output provides irrefutable evidence that your editorial board has never read the book on discretion."
Paul K. Madigan
Hong Kong

National crisis
"YOUR FrontPage headline (FT 12/2) alleges that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji is in a crisis.
We have many crisis in Fiji serious crime, poverty where more than one third of the population are struggling to survive below the poverty line, in schools with 10 per cent of our children not attending classes, lack of confidence in an economy on the decline and many others on the same scale of seriousness.
A difference of views between two national council members, even if expressed very robustly, will not register on the same scale. This is by comparison, a crisis in a tea cup.
The national council, from the outset when it first met on January 16, encourages robust debate.
Its members will not be frightened by a bit of honest emotion over a matter that may, in the end, be easily resolved by a quiet conversation and constructive dialogue.
They keep a sense of proportion in their discussions about what is really important and what is not.
The national council, at the least, deserves a sense of proportion and fair reporting from journalists and the mainstream media.
In the report, the headline and contents of your first paragraph [don't] show any relationship to the rest of the news.
The story was about a certain business deal and had nothing to do with the national council."

John Samy
Head of TASS

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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