A Journalist's Lot is Not a Happy One

A personal note
Years ago I was a cadet reporter on the Christchurch Star-Sun. I was 20 years old, had been round the earth one and a half times, and I had good university passes in English and Geography. I'd dropped out of History and Economics because I needed to work to live. I spent two months as a copyholder in the proofreading room and when I was eventually allowed to report anything it was the AGM of the Shirley Bowling Club.  My story and all subsequent stories were closely scrutinised by the sub-editor before it went to press.  I became a journalist for the interest, the glamour, the salary and the career prospects. 

How does my experience compare with typical reporters in Fiji?
Most probably they have not lived outside Fiji, they are writing in a second language, have no university or higher education, and they are poorly paid with limited job prospects. The sub-editors will be better paid but they too will have been trained on the job. It is not surprising that stories that should have have been checked and better edited slip through their fingers.

Political and other biases are sometimes the cause of inaccurate stories but more often they are the result of a limited sense of social responsibility and the absence of a code of ethics. But, whatever the cause, ultimate blame should be levelled at publishers and shareholders who are too easily satisfied with their newspapers so long at the circulation and profits are up.

The above preamble was triggered by the following comment from Charlie Charters on my blog posting "Pacific.scoop.co.nz � ‘Fairer, ethical’ reporting ..." It is prefaced by an item on a legal workshop for journalists and followed by the Solicitor-General's letter to the Fiji Sun.

Legal assistance for journalists

This workshop http://lawfiji.com/media-and-the-law/ last week should help journalists better understand the laws on defamation of character, sedition, racial vilification, creating communal antagonism, and contempt of court.
Charlie's comment

I have waited a full week to see whether or not you or any of your blogging colleagues would take up this perplexing issue (www.fijisun.com.fj/2012/05/09/court-report-contains-errors/). You thoughts on fairer, ethical reporting in the Pacific were most opportune.

The Fiji Sun, which even you have noted has been guilty of excessive govt cheerleading on occasion, stands accused by the solicitor general of at least four startling errors of fact in a specific court report, and the failure to provide important contextual and background information so as to mislead or misinform the reader.

If these allegations are correct - and I am not aware if the Sun has responded - it is hard to see how this is not in the same vein as the 2008 contempt of court issue that faced the Fiji Times, (and the Daily Post, who published the same letter).

[BTW Can you imagine the uproar or prosecutorial zeal if the pre-Motibhai/Media Decree Fiji Times had committed the same errors that the Fiji Sun allegedly has?]

Which begs the question ... who is right in this issue, how are these mistakes happening in our new consensus-friendly, pro-Pacific-regulatory framework, and what are the consequences for this pro-regime newspaper, its ownership and journalist of these alleged failures to report accurately and for leaving 'the impression, again, that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has failed in its duty' to quote Mr Pryde.

Or, as one of the case's quoted in the Fiji Times judgement noted, 'Fair criticism of the decisions of the Court is not only lawful, but regarded as being for the public good; but the facts forming the basis of the criticism must be accurately stated, and the criticism must be fair and not distorted by malice (R v Nicholls (1911)'.

Court report contains errors
May 9, 2012 | Filed under: Letters www.fijisun.com.fj/2012/05/09/court-report-contains-errors/
Christopher T Pryde
Director of Public Prosecutions

I refer to a story published in the Fiji Sun newspaper on May 6, 2012 entitled “Court Orders Lawyers to bring Accused” by Fonua Talei.There are a number of errors in this article which require correction.

First, the court did not order two state lawyers to produce a home invasion suspect before the court.
The court had directed the police, not the one state lawyer present in court, to continue efforts to locate and arrest the suspect who has absconded while on bail.

Second, the state prosecutor did not at any time tell the court that two previous prosecutors did not know the accused’s whereabouts.

Nor did the court question the state prosecutor as to why they were not informed or say that it is the duty of the State to know the details of the case.

Third, the court did not say that the State was the cause of the problem by not objecting to bail initially.
Finally, the matter was adjourned to 27 July 2012 and not 22 July 2012 as stated in the article.

In addition to these errors of fact, the article provided no background to the matter and, importantly, left out salient points, leaving the reader confused as to what the case was about or why it was being called before the court.

It also left the impression, again, that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has failed in its duty to the court which is false.

To the contrary, the State informed the court of progress in the matter as required and provided the court with the necessary documentation requested of it at the last mention date.

The suspect remains at large and the police have undertaken to use all efforts to apprehend the suspect and bring him before the court at the next court date.

The court thanked the State for the effort put in so far and informed the State it was doing a good job.
The facts of what transpired in the court are at odds with how the matter was reported in the article.

Ed. Footnote
It is pleasing that Government has taken the "pro-government: Fiji Sun to task, and pleasing also that Sun journalists recently were advised  on legal issues by a lawyer often attacked by the anti-bloggers.


Knickers in a twist said…
Charlie is a Qarase-man due to family connections. His view, as usual, is blinkered. One is flabbergasted by Charlie's sudden concern about media standards. Where was he when The Fiji Times was writing blatantly biased, anti-Labour Party stories, day-in, day-out? Cheering silently from the sidelines no doubt, given, his political sympathies. Charlie is very quick to point fingers at the Fiji Sun. Where was he when The Fiji Times was exposed for practising skirt journalism – not once, but twice. Did we ever hear the slightest peep from him all these years? Never, not once. Charlie only became concerned media standards after uncle Qarase was ousted. What a coincidence!

Charlie's comments about media standards are politically-motivated, insincere and shallow. He does not mention anything about the poor salaries, lack of training opportunities and poor working conditions of Fiji journalists. Yet, these factors, have a direct bearing on standards, have been an issue for years.

The mistakes in the Fiji Sun court stories, which Charlie was quick to zero in on, are nothing compared to the wilful, calculated and seditious attacks by the Fiji Times mounted against the Labour Govt by Russell Hunter, his sidekick Netani Rika, and their minion, Margret Wise. This is the same Fiji Times that secretly contributed to Qarase's Duavata Funds.

Yet, not even a whisper from British-based self-appointed watchdog of Fiji media, Charlie. But, a few unintentional errors by the Sun, and suddenly Charlie's has his knickers in a twist.

Charlie reminds one George Speight, who it seems fell on the wrong side of the bed one morning, and woke up reborn as a champion of indigenous Fijians. Of course, we knew all along, the real reason behind failed businessman and sacked Fiji Hardwood Corporation chairman Speight's coup, including loss of daddy, Sam Speight's, ministerial portfolio

Now we have another character who thinks along the same lines as Speight. Just as Speight (sustained by hot loaves from Hot Bread Kitchen during hostage crisis) scapegoated Indos and used them as a front, we have big Charlie using the Fiji Sun and media standards as a front for his political motives.

Enough of the hypocrisy already.
Charlie Charters said…
Croz, unlike yourself and many but not all of your commentators I have worked in these newsrooms, of the Fiji Times and Daily Post, of FBC and FM96 and Fiji One.

The point that you made is correct: there is not always a strong sense of social responsibility or a code of ethics, and the publisher and shareholders are often not as focussed on what would make their journalists stronger and better resourced as one would like. 'Twas ever thus, both in Fiji and elsewhere in the world.

As always, it is regrettable that an opportunity to talk about how and why a newspaper is alleged by the solicitor general to have completely invented whole tranches of court reporting in this new post-Media Authority regulatory environment, has been lost by at least one of your readers. Play the ball, don't play the man.

I thank you for not introducing me (as you have done in the past) as the son in law of Mere Samisoni ... I already had a fully formed view of the ownership of the Fiji Sun many years before my mother in law was elected as an MP, or arrested on charges that she denies, as a Google search on the relationship between the Fiji Rugby Union and the Fiji Sun would explain. The ban the FRU put in place against the Sun was when Russell Hunter was editor - further confounding the conspiracy theorists.

The ban was agreed by the FRU board for the simple reason that the then editor of the Fiji Sun had a shareholding (confirmed by the Registrar of Companies) in a sports promotion company that he used to shamelessly promote the company's main team within the news and sports pages of the newspaper, without ever declaring this interest to the publisher. This went on for at least two years before I drew the publisher's attention to the matter.
Sins of the.... said…
I'm sorry, Charlie Charters, but it's inevitable that some people will focus on your family ties because of the suspicion that you may share the racist views of some of the people around you. It's not a question of paraphrasing the old saying about fathers to talk about the "sins of the mother-in-law being visited on the son-in-law". It's because of the highly contentious comments that Mere Samisoni has made in Fiji over the years that clearly indicate that she's a racial supremacist. Yes, she's hasn't been convicted of the charge against her of conspiring to burn down Suva and deserves the presumption of innocence. But let's face it, she's not your average mother-in-law. So, Charlie. What gives? Do you subscribe to the family view that Fiji is for the i'taukei and that indigenous people - to put it politely -ought to take preference over everyone else? Because that's what she's argued in the past and a lot worse. In any other country this may not be something normally required of a son-in-law. But in Fiji and because you're a journalist/author, it does seems a reasonable expectation for you to address the issue.
Terrior RC said…
Lets not hide behind all the fancy and colourful lingos used by journalist. To put it straight Mere Samisoni was and still is anything and everything against the Indians of Fiji....bluntly said that she is a racist. Hers and people like her had their agendas often supported by the media like the Fiji Times...for obvious reasons.The indians have a saying:wherever and whenever the colonial masters left, they trained a couple of dogs (could be local as well)to always bark on their behalf.
In this world of globalisation though, these barkings have become less significant now.
Stuck in a Rut said…
Mere Samisoni is nothing but a female version of George Speight. She harbours a visceral dislike for Indians. Try as she might, she cannot disguise it.

At one time Indians posed a political threat, but not anymore, with lower birthrates and high emigration. Fijian birth-rates are higher, and most of them are staying put in Fiji. Fijian fears when Indians outnumbered them was understandable.
But there is no such danger now – so why on earth would people want to bomb Suva? Only people who will benefit are SDL cronies. We all know some sinister people in SDL - Conman Peter Foster, once part of the circle, spilled the beans. No need to name names. we know who these are and their records. These people are as dangerous as they are corrupt. These subversives are capable of causing immense damage, so you cannot rule out a plot out of hand.

Fijians will be in government again, they will call the shots, its only a matter of time. It'll happen sooner rather than later, there is no escaping it, so what is the rush when this can be achieved without causing any disruption or harm to citizens?

What we are really seeing is a power struggle between Fijian elites like Mere Samisoni and others. But weak and easy to bully and push around targets, the Indians, are still scapegoated. Every bloody man and his dog targets Indians in Fiji. But making Indos perennial scapegoats hasn't helped anyone has it? because indians are there to blames, people failed to look honestly within themselves and make the necessary changes, so perhaps indirectly Indians are at fault!

But in reality, Indians and Fijians should be working together to build a better Fiji.

But one gets the impression that haters like Mere Samisoni will never be satisfied unless Indians are driven out to sea. Qarase govt policies were designed just to do that - one after another blatantly racist and discriminatory policy that demoralised Indians emotionally and also punished them in the material sense. Adding insult to injury was the reconciliation bill - what was the need for this bill? So much for democracy Qarase style.

Qarase could have been leader for everyone without compromising the indigenous in any way, but had no long-term national vision, no leadership or statesman like qualities, just an un-innovative, narrow, small minded ethno-nationalist who was preoccupied with making most of his position by profiting personally from Fijian Holdings and other dealings.

Indians and and Fijians can get on well together and build Fiji and make it the envy of the world, but not while racist, backward, shortsighted and bigoted people like Qarase and Mere Samisoni are around to pollute young minds.

We need young visionary leaders who believe in inclusiveness and who believe in indigenous Fijians. Elites like Mere and Qarase and the GCC have a paternalistic attitude towards indigenous Fijians and like to lord it over them. Due to this mollycoddling, Indigenous Fijians as a whole have done poorly but the elites – the successors of the colonialists - politicians like Qarase and Mere, and the GCC – have done wonderfully well.

We need leaders with a give-and-take attitude, not relics like Qarase and Mere and Chaudhry who will corrupt young minds, sow disunity, and corrupt country as their blemished records show. unless the old power structure is demolished Fiji will remain stuck in a rut.
Islands in the Stream said…
The plot to burn down a capital city (if established in a court of law) would be not only an act of arson but also an act of terrorism.

Such acts took place within Fiji in May, June, July 2000. They took place at Parliament, on the Streets of Suva and also at Muaniweni. None of these acts were prosecuted then as Acts of Terrorism neither were those who plotted them, who aided and abetted them, who executed them dealt with as they should have been then and must be still. The International Community is still negligent, unobservant and recalcitrant in this regard.

Dr Mere Samisoni must face what awaits her. But she is also answerable for what went long before to all Fijians. Her outspoken and written diatribes of 2000 were not only against "Indos" but also against "Anglo Saxons". She appeared to believe then that all white people were not Caucasians (ethnically) but only of Anglo Saxon derivation. How odd! For someone who believes herself to be highly educated. Some of us are not only Anglo Saxon but other things too: how about Celtic? Many Caucasians are of a multiplicity of blood lines just as many Fijians are. Are we expected in Mere Samisoni's Brave New World to wear our DNA on our shoulders or our sleeves? This can of course be achieved today at considerable taxpayers' or individual cost.

And how would we term and classify someone who despite her opportunities to attend higher education and to own and run Hot Bread Kitchen Shops still advocates for the politics of exclusion in the second decade of the 21st Century? Surely not 'elite'?

Simply 'misguided'?
Corrupt Fiji editors said…
Very interesting, but not all surprising, revelation about Russell Hunter by Charlie Charters regarding the ban the Fiji Rugby Union put on the Fiji Sun was when Russell Hunter was editor.

In Charlie's words, the ban was due to the fact that Hunter (confirmed by the Registrar of Companies) had interests in a sports promotion company that he "used to shamelessly promote" the company's main team within the news and sports pages of the newspaper, without ever declaring this interest to the publisher.

So, apart from encouraging skirt journalism at the Fiji Times, Mr Russell Hunter was trying to make a little bit on the side by using his position as editor-in-chief of Fiji Sun.

This same man used to write a sanctimonious editorials against the Chaudhry Government, accusing it of all manner of evils. He used to preach media ethics to the rest of his nation, along with his adoring sidekick, Netani Rika. Fiji Times chased down Chaudhry relentlessly day-in-day- out.

One wonders where was the Fiji Times' watchdog zeal when Russell Hunter was outed by the Fiji Rugby Union. Where was Mr investigative journalism Netani Rika then. It seems Fiji Times was only interested in investigating Chaudhry while shielding Rika's buddy Russell Hunter. What a bloody farce the Fiji Times turned into during Hunter and Rika's watch. The best thing to happen to the paper and journalism in Fiji was Rika's resignation.

Russell Hunter, I believe, received a Fiji Media Council award for investigative journalism for stories on Mahen Chaudhry's tax affairs. What about Russell using his position at Fiji Sun to promote his business interests?

Fiji Media Council gives an award to someone known for practising skirt journalism and outed for using his editorial position for his own monetary benefit?

No wonder Fiji Media Council was regarded as a joke and a White man's Club in Fiji. This is not meant to be racist at all, or to tar all whites with one brush, because the large majority are decent, genuine and doing excellent work in Fiji, like Fr, Barr.

But we heard a local journalist say on Fiji TV that media in Fiji was controlled by some white men. Media barons of all shapes and colours are a dangerous breed.

The question is, should Fiji Media Council withdraw the award it gave to Russell Hunter? In the eyes of many people, that award would now be worth toilet paper given how Russell Hunter treated the office of the editor at two newspapers in Fiji.

I repeat: what a mess and a farce. No wonder media is down the tube suffering so much today in Fiji. Rika likes to prance at international forums and act like a hero talking about media freedom.
He should forever close his mouth as he has no more journalistic credibility left.
Anonymous said…
Croz, just to clarify the person I was outing was not Russell Hunter but an editor working on the paper. [Forgive me, couldnt recall whether Russell was the editor or publisher].

I was deputed by the Fiji Rugby Union ceo to meet with Russell who I met for lunch and passed to him the copies of the documents from the Registrar of Companies. I am not aware of what action Russell took internally, but from that point on the newspaper's coverage was more even-handed, they no longer contested the ban, and in due course - after I left - they even became the official newspaper of the FRU. I don't know what happened to the editor, he may still be working there now.

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