More Charges Against The Fiji Times

The Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde (photo) today laid charges against the Fiji Times Limited and its six directors for breaches of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010. The charges allege that Fiji Times Limited and its directors breached section 38 and section 43 (1) of the Decree by failing to ensure that all its Directors were Fiji citizens permanently residing in Fiji.

The particulars of the charge are that Fiji Times Limited, a media organisation duly registered with the Media Industry Development Authority together with Mahendra Patel, Kiritbhai Patel, Rajesh Patel, Manu Patel, Bhupendra Patel and Jinesh Patel being Directors of Fiji Times Limited between the 1st day of January 2012 and the 31st day of December 2012, at Suva in the Central Division, failed to ensure that all its Directors were Fiji citizens permanently residing in Fiji. The matter will be listed for first mention on Friday 22 March 2013.

Comment. Coming on top of the $300,000 fine and the $25,000 fine and deferred prison sentence for Editor Fred Wesley (about which I will say more on Saturday), this announcement sends out questionable signals on the current state of media freedom, and  it could spell financial disaster for Fiji's oldest newspaper. If found guilty, the individuals named could be fined $10,000 each and the company $100,000.  Money taken to meet these fines is money taken away from other uses, such as staff training, inducements and promotions: all needed to maintain and improve newspaper quality.

Several thoughts come to mind:
The Decree was passed in June 2010.  Why did it take Motubhai, owned by the Patel family,  and the DPP so long to take action on this matter? Did the Patels think the matter would be overlooked or did some of them change residence between 2010 and 2012, and no one kept count?

Is it a coincidence that the DPP's action comes immediately after the earlier crippling court finding against the newspaper? Is Government's intention merely to correct a regulation beach or is something more serious afoot? 

Some will see this action as further evidence that Government intends to bury the Fiji Times, leaving the Fiji Sun as Fiji's only other daily newspaper? They are probably wrong, of course, but that will not change their perception. Government's has a bad week with the release of the video purportedly showing police beating escaped prisoners.  Perceptions are cumulative, and Government does not need another bad one.

Just as importantly in the longer term, a strong case can be made to revisit  the ownership requirements of the decree. The 10% limit on foreign ownership was criticised at the time.  A 20-30% limit would still ensure the paper did not fall into foreign hands. And a more substantial foreign involvement could bring technical and financial benefits. 

When Rupert Murdoch interests were forced to sell the Times, the only local interest shown in purchasing the paper came from Motubhai. Was it not then recognized that nearly all prominent Gujerati business families are multi-national and multi-residential? A way to ease this requirement would be to separate citizenship and residence, or permit some overseas-resident directors.    

I think Government needs to go back to the Decree and ask what its purpose was in including these requirements, and then ask if their purpose is in any way threatened by the alleged Patel infringements.   Too late perhaps for this case, but not too late to ensure at least two daily papers —and media competition—survive in Fiji. -- Crosbie Walsh


the way it is said…

Its important to remember that grudges are held for a long long time in Fiji (by everyone) and none more so by the current government. The purpose here is clear - get back at a paper that the military government feel has not supported it.

If the PM really wants to change Fiji and take Fiji forward he could start by being the first PM to break this trend. Imagine if he directed the same resources he has put into "getting people" he percieved did not support him into real development projects.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps another good question to ask at this time is "how much media development has the Media Development Authority done" ? When the decree introduced we where told it was all about developing a better, fair and balanced media. (not about just forcing the Fiji times sold or closed and ensuring much more positive press for the military).
Anonymous said…
Why in the world would you think government want media competition ? What they clearly want is support for everything they do and criticism of everyone else.
It is called a dictatorship said…
What are you complaining about Croz? It is called a dictatorship.

And from the evidence we have seen a very brutal one at that.
Joe said…
I think these charges are designed to bring back the absconder Mac Patel to Fiji. Apparently he is too sick to travel, but attends parties in Sydney. This is the guy who funded the controversial "Carroll Report" for Ratu Mara's Alliance Party in the 1982 General Election, and Len Usher of Fiji Times was heavily involved in it too.

If Mr K.C. Ramrakha is reading this, may I humbly request you sir to enlighten us further on the "Carroll Report".
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ the way it is ... Unfortunately, what you say is only too true. I keep on hoping someone will prove us wrong.
Crosbie Walsh said…
@ Joe... The same thought crossed my mind.
Charlie Charters said…

Croz, the contradictions of the Media Decree was exposed more than two weeks ago when the whole issue of local ownership versus foreign was turned on its head with FBC being effectively written out of the decree and placed on a privileged pedestal (in fact an even more exalted pedestal as they were already exempted from the cross-media ownership rules versus CFL, Mai and Fiji TV).

As best as I can make out from the fragments of information provided, the government broadcaster now enjoys potentially unfettered access to foreign capital, resources and expertise that the government's legislation has the effect of starving the rest of the local media of.

This after, as reported on Feb 23, an amendment to the 10 percent foreign ownership rules (which applied across all registered media) was granted but only for the benefit of state-owned media (FBC). The fig leaf of 'local' participation required under the amendment in any such FBC pay TV newco is a 15 percent local stake and one board director.

The reason for this amendment has not been explained (in any forum I can find). Nor has it been tested by commentators like yourself or Mr Davis - who to your respective credit have a basic sympathy with the media. Your past blogs have lauded media plurality and diversity, and you have been clear that a good media requires more investment not less, encouragement not just thrashing. Why the silence now?

More extraordinary is the fact this amendment seems to fly completely in the face of the logic of something that goes by the grand title of the Media Industry Development Authority: it's one thing to switch government advertising budgets from the Fiji Times to the Fiji Sun (from one family-owned entity to another) but this amendment advantages the almost-exclusively government-funded media over solely privately-funded media.

What we now have is the frankly comic situation that Murdoch's News Ltd can no longer own the Fiji Times (because of the 10 percent limit on foreign ownership) but his News Corporation can own 85 percent of a Fijian pay-TV joint-venture or control a pay-TV 'partnership' offering his Star India channels (Star Plus, Star Gold, Life Ok, Movies Ok, Star Sports etc.).

Why? If foreign ownership was the problem, why is foreign ownership (with FBC) now the solution?

However you look at it - this decree and subsequent amendment makes no sense beyond creating a mechanism by which some media-clients of the state appear to be able to be advanced. And this advancement can only come at the expense of others because there are rules and then there are exceptions to the rules for some but not all.

Is it any wonder that last month's $300,000 fine and suspended prison sentence levelled against the Fiji Times' Fred Wesley last month is viewed by regime critics as another calculated ploy in the creation of an all-smiling, Frank-friendly media landscape.

Especially as the Attorney General (whose office drafted the FBC-favoured amendment) weighed in with his own calculation, according to your report, that the Times' transgression was worth a $500,000 fine. You, at least, had the guts to call even the $300,000 fine as 'unnecessarily excessive'.

So in the last three weeks, the AG's office rewrites the key foreign ownership rules for the benefit of the state-owned media, a scandalised judiciary levels an 'unnecessarily excessive' fine on the Fiji Times plus a suspended jail sentence for good measure, and now the Director of Public Prosecutions wants the Motibhai family of directors in court because their multi-residence, international existence may have put them in technical breach of a local residency and/or citizenship requirement (which wouldn't apply to directors if they were partnered up with FBC) ... have I missed anything?

desmond said…
Oh Croz...for your purposes, everything the regime does is the cup half full, it really wouldn't matter their tactics or who it is aimed at. Your'e a true believer. The sad thing is, that it is an unrequited love and in their breathtaking arrogance, the regime never takes the slightest notice of your advice.This will all end very badly and be for nothing.
Anonymous said…
yes i sgree....vindictiveness and the arbitrary application of the 'makem up as you go along decrees' is quite the legacy of this regime and you won't really hear a peep out of Crosbie Walsh. BUT for the next goventment, oh well he would expect all things to be different and a different and better standard applied. What a complete and utter joke.
Anonymous said…
Ranjit Singh - that lapdog howler of the regime should be celebrating - his pet hatred Fiji Times will finally close down
%$#@! said…
@ Charlie

... I could write a book on the howling contradictions, doubale standards and hypocrasy of this regime - and I doubt it would sell, as it would be nothing new. But i would love to see all the reports on the regime members pre and post coup that have been suppressed and would be keen for a full commission of inquiry. I don't even care if the immunity remains, but regime cronies should be required to attend and evidence put so all can see what they have been up to. Immunity doesn't mean free to leave the country, immunity doesn't mean you can't be charged with contempt, audited nor avoid questioning. probably a great 'workaround' for an immunity decree.
Inquiry Time said…
Should have been a full commission of inquiry into 1987 and 2000 with all the suppressed reports. After the 1997 Constitution everyone just moved on. If we have inquiries they should start at 1987.
Babba said…
Let these scum bags rot in hell, They looted Fiji and it's people for long enough...

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