The Fiji Times and the Independence of the Judiciary

The conviction of the Fiji Times, reported below, could not have come at a worse time for Government.  Coupled with the non-registration of the old political parties, it will be used by anti-government people as further "proof" of government oppression and interference in the judiciary.

I was not in the court and do not know the arguments presented but I have little doubt that the convicting judge formed an independent judgement.  And before the anti-bloggers claim otherwise, they should recall Coup4.5's posting last year that said Justice Calanchini was about to be dismissed because he would not do Government's bidding. He is still there.   And they should also remember that  earlier, in October 2010, Justice Calanchini rejected an appeal by the Military against conviction for the brutal beating of villager Navualeba immediately following the Speight 2000 Coup. The judge fined the Military $48,000 and $3,000 in costs.

Now read on
High Court judge Justice William Calanchini has rejected an appeal by the Fiji Times against a conviction of contempt of court, and fined the newspaper $300,000, it former publisher Brian O'Flaherty $10,000 and its editor-in-chief Fred Wesley to six months imprisonment suspended for two years. The A-G's office had asked for a$500,000 fine. The judge also ordered The Fiji Times and Wesley to arrange for an apology  directed to the judiciary of Fiji to be first drafted and submitted to the court for approval prior  to being published in The Fiji Times within the next 28 days.

The convictions were entered for the republication in the sports pages of The Fiji Times on 7 November 2011 of an article originally published in the Sunday Star-Times, a weekly New Zealand newspaper. The article contained a statement from Tai Nicholas, the general secretary of the Oceania Football Confederation, about the judiciary in Fiji. Justice Calanchini had earlier found that this article scandalised the Fiji courts.

Justice Calanchini said an "aggravating factor" of the contempt was the publication by The Fiji Times of another story in June last year which conveyed "the impression that the judiciary was not independent from the government".

Editor-in Chief Fred Wesley and  former publisher Brian O'Flaherty were not at work on the day the article was publication.  Both pleaded not guilty. A fortnight ago, Justice Calanchini convicted Nicholas, who had pleaded guilty, and fined him $15,000 for making the original statement about the Fiji judiciary. -- Much of the above is based on Fiji Times article.

My view
As previously stated in this blog, everyone is entitled to criticize a court decision —I, for example, consider the $300,000 sentence unnecessarily excessive.  This is a locally owned paper lacking the resources of Fairfax and  the overseas-owned  media. But no one is entitled to question the independence of the judiciary, and although I do not believe Fred Wesley approved the publication (my view, having met the man, is that he would have spike the article)  he was ultimately responsible.

I hope to have a fuller article on the issue, and the difficulties facing the media, in a few days time. Watch this space.


Damage Control said…
You and others supporting this out of control military regime increasingly appear to be in damage control? Whoever is advising this misguided regime is showing signs of abject stupidity and escalating paranoia? The anti-Dictatorship/Pro Democracy bloggers are the least of your concerns. The international community of free and democratic nations (the others don't matter) are not stupid. Everyone of honesty and integrity can see where Fiji is heading under the current illegal regime. The latest madness to repress free speech and the media, and to destroy legitimate political parties, is being reported widely through the international media. You and other junta supporters will need more than damage control and spin to save this dictatorship which has well and truly reached its use by date.
wati s said…
Here here !! Damage. The decrees aren't worth the paper they are written on, so to have anyone to uphold and enforce them, as appointees of a military regime, is a joke.
Anonymous said…
Cannot spell independence. Wonder why?
watching the media watch the media said…
Anywhere in the world, it is contempt of court to publish what the Fiji Times published. The same rules apply for contempt of court by the media everywhere. Why should the Fiji media be exempt from those rules. If they have no evidence that the judiciary is compromised, they shouldn't publish. And I don't mean rumor, gossip or Justice Marshall's assumptions either ( he never spoke to AG but he believes he influences the judges, and he wants to be the AG himself!). I mean evidence.
Joe said…
Croz, FT is a repeat offender, hence the hefty penalty. As for resources to pay the fine, there is plenty, Prouds can be sold off.
Naivalurua for PM said…
Naivalurua should replace the braindead fool Bainimarama as PM as soon as possible. Not only would he bring some intelligence to the position but he would quickly sort out the khaiyum cadre causing so much damage to the nation. Like many sensible military personnel Naivalurua recognises the treasonous khaiyum for what he his.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Damage Control.. Please see my comment on McCully's remarks in tomorrow's News and Comments. Are you inferring I am dishonest and have no integrity?
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Naivalurua .... These comments are borderline for publication. You will note that I do not accuse anyone of being brain dead, unintelligent or treasonous, though I must confess I've been sorely tempted.
Crosbie Walsh said…
Joe ... Vinaka Joe. Twice that I know of, under different publishers. And they were quoting others not employed by the FT. I agree with the verdict but $300,000 really could break the FT. Is this the Court's, or the Government's, intention? Please hold back on your judgement until you've read my forthcoming article on the difficulties facing the media.
Fiji Sun apologist said…
Just imagine if one of us or even the Fiji Times had dared to speak out against what many perceive as foreign Chinese criminals in Fiji and Nigerians etc - after all, we still use British legal precedent:

Theresa May attacks judges over deportation rules

Home secretary accuses judges of 'subverting' democracy and vows to introduce legislation to restrict human rights of offenders

Share 269

Press Association, Sunday 17 February 2013 08.50 GMT
Jump to comments (800)

Theresa May
Theresa May: 'It is essential to democracy that the elected representatives of the people make the laws … and not the judges.' Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

The home secretary, Theresa May, has accused judges of "subverting" British democracy and making the streets of Britain more dangerous by ignoring rules aimed at deporting more foreign criminals.

In a scathing attack, she vowed to introduce primary legislation to restrict the human rights of offenders after a minority of the judiciary decided to "ignore parliament's wishes".

She warned the delay in getting that onto the statute book would inevitably mean "more victims of violent crimes committed by foreigners in this country".
Mosese said…
The Fiji Times must disappear, must be wound down like the old political parties whose praise it sings. We all know that our judiciary is completely independent as demonstrated in the Qarase trial: This thug should have been given a lifetime sentence for treason instead of this ridiculous two year term. It never ceases to amaze me that our PM and AG still allow the gutter press spill their venom. Why can't we have the Fiji Sun as our paper of unity, an objective media that tells the people about the good reforms our government is doing?
rusi said…
THats right we need state run media like those enlightened nation China and North Korea. We don't want people reporting things we don't want the public to know and who are not spreading our own message, without feeling the need to scrutise. It would just confuse them. BTW 'Anywhere in the world' this parer would not be regulated by decree enforced through a handpicked judiciary by a military junta.
Damage Control said…
You need to make your own decisions about your honesty and integrity. Are you having self doubts?
Anonymous said…
We, the people, look forward to hearing the rest of your investigation into what happened. We would like a link to the objectionable $300,000 statement quote as well, if you can find it. $300,000?! Really? So serious? Does an elephant worry for a small bird on its head? Does he go all out to squash it?

Quotes are from the article.

Fiji Times is the online and physical newspaper of the Republic of Fiji. It is the People's newspaper. It may not be perfect, but it is our newspaper. It has a right to exist, to give its opinions, report on news, provide advertising, share readers' opinions, to make suggestions as well as to make mistakes and be forgiven and supported, as do we all.

All men, including the members of the judiciary, are men trying to make a living in the time of Kaliyuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. All men have imperfect senses, a tendency to cheat and be illusioned as well as commit mistakes. Humility is essential in dispensing justice. Judiciary used to be administered by the Holy Books and the Saintly Persons who took NO PAYMENT, lived the most austere of lives and were free of vice; God-fearing, honest, well-wishers of society. How much money do the current judiciary make per annum? Did they make a bonus on this judgement? Unfortunately this should be independently investigated and made public. Where is the $300,000 going?

Plundering and defaming one man for repeating in a Public forum the "unfavorable" to the powers-that-be opinion of another is now being done under the umbrella phrase, "reflects the public interest, acts as a deterrent and appropriately denounces the conduct of the respondents."

Let the public respond to this we feel this judgement is it in our interest? Or are we sick of attacks on our health, our food supply, our freedom of speech and authorship, our Fijian way of life, while using the catch phrase "for your, the publics' interests" ? When it is really to earn money for a particular group or serve a specific interest group.

The judiciary should publicly bear the burden of proof---How is it in our interests that a man (think: this might even be me!) cannot speak what he believes? And how is it an innocent man is found guilty for another and plundered, defamed and judged for OUR benefit? How is it our newspaper is being attacked and plundered in OUR good name?

You know what? The REAL public interest is to have our body and belongings protected by the Head of State. If the Head of State is not benevolent and strong enough that it is unable to protect us from a particular over-powering group or gang, they should come up to the standard. Let the PM use his power to override this judgement on behalf of the People and the Fiji Times. Why not? Head of state means moral compass.. acting on behalf of truth, justice, the weak, and on behalf of the Lord's will.
Anonymous said…

"the role of safeguarding the community from scurrilous attacks on its judiciary amounting to contempt scandalizing the court."

Suppose we ask the many of us have been unfairly dealt with by the judiciary? Scandalized as it were. With absolutely NO RECOURSE. Wouldn't a bigger scandal be the scandal of being ruined by the judiciary because of some personal reason or affiliation they keep hidden from us? Or a bigger scandal the scandal of the People being afraid to speak the TRUTH or even speak one's opinion, due to becoming a target of judiciary mis-use of power (in the name of the people..we must always be lied to that it is in OUR interest) and we foolishly believe this?!

"Justice Calanchini said contempt of court was serious as a matter of principle because it was directed towards the whole judiciary of Fiji and the court at a time of Fiji's on-going constitutional development."

This statement makes me wonder who is behind this, who wants Fiji Times to be destroyed and who is going to take over its publication, for what end..and where does the money-trail lead? Or worry about the kind of constitutional government we are heading toward for Fiji..are we making God's word, service and love the Head of government, or Kali's lies, greed and hate?

"He said as a matter of principle the publication scandalises the entire judiciary and the court in so far as there was a real risk that the effect of the publication would be to undermine the authority of the court and discourage citizens from relying on the judiciary to settle their disputes."

Sometimes it seems a coin toss would be safer, just as effective and certainly cheaper and less time-consuming to rely on for disputes these days. I certainly see no end in sight to the need for a judiciary for the country. The question is, how to fill the posts with qualified men of exemplary character.

""The publication represents a real risk to the effective administration of justice in Fiji," he added.""

In fact, the people wish that 'something' would be a real risk to the ineffective administration of justice in Fiji." Because they do not see any justice in this.

The people know: if injustice to one is administered and accepted, injustice to all will become the rule.
Anonymous said…
Sorry freedom of the press is not unlimited. The press cannot lie, defame others, incite racism or attack the courts. If they break these rules then they have to do the time.
wati s said…
and i feel just as strongly about the military regime. So either we give newspapers immunity too or nobody gets or deserves it.
Joe said…
and i feel just as strongly about qarase regime. So either we close our eyes and ears and let qarase continue with his merry way or support the military who took the risk to stop the BS. I chose to support the military.
wati s said…
You wouldn't know what the regime are up to, as they don't feel inclined to be accountable to anyone. All those jobs for the boys, tenders to cronies, secrets payments and payoffs, and they are UNELECTED. Qarase as I remember, was appointed by the military and so was Chaudry. What sort of judgement was that ??!! BTW Qarase was six years ago and you still use as a measure, 'but we are better than him' ??!! 'WE may be corrupt and full of talentless thugs, but we are still better than him!!' Great argument. Lets see it put to the vote.
Anonymous said…
Duavata Initiatives? Slush fund for SDL? Affirmative action for cronies? Wheelbarrows for the boys? Weeds and Indians?
Anonymous said…
The Fiji Times will continue. The Motibhai Group is wealthy after years of big profits from Prouds and other businesses.
Just look at all those years of duty free store monopoly at Nadi Airport allowed by Mahendra Motibhai Patel's good friend Ratu Mara.
Tappoo had to go to court to break that monopoly and get space at the airport.
This Government is the first that has not let Motibhai Patel in the door to continue to fill his pockets. Instead he has gone to jail for corruption.
Motibhai Patel is now just using the Fiji Times to try to get back at the Bainimarama Government because of all this. He will keep the Fiji Times going because of this and in the hope that things will change and it will be back to business the way he has always done it.
Anonymous said…
'Qarase as I remember, was appointed by the military and so was Chaudry', right Wati S, they were convenient bedfellows when it suited the regime weren't they!!! Whenver the goons are asked about their own performance and accountability, they quickly deflect to Qarase and his government. oh dear. This is the best they can do. I note they don't use Sweden or Canada as benchmark.
Anonymous said…
At the start of an important trial, a small town attorney called his first witness to the stand. She seemed like a sweet, elderly woman. He approached her and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"

She responded, "Why, yes, I do know you Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a young boy. You've become a huge disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a hot shot lawyer, when you haven't the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you."

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do he pointed across the room and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?"

She replied, "Why, of course I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. I used to baby-sit him for his parents. And he, also, is a real disappointment. He's lazy, bigoted, never has a nice word to say about anybody, and he drinks like a fish. He's been divorced five times, and everybody knows that his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I know him."

The judge rapped his gavel, to quiet the tittering among the spectators in the courtroom. Once the room was silent, he called both attorneys to his bench. In a quiet, menacing voice, he warned, "If either of you asks her if she knows me, you'll be jailed for contempt!"

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