Oct 24, 2020 Last Updated 9:52 PM, Oct 21, 2020

Slowly but surely the once mighty Fiji Television Limited has started to crumble, taken apart from within by a combination of government pressure, acquiescent board members and questionable divestments.

Last month the company announced the resignation of CEO Karen Lobendahn and Manager Finance, Upendra Gounder. Lobendahn had been with Fiji TV for 24 years and CEO since May 2017; Gounder had been with Fiji TV for just nine months.

Fiji TV also released its audited financial statements 2020 at the end of August, and they make for sobering reading. Company Chairman, Deepak Rathod has attributed the company’s recent poor financial performance to the impacts of COVID-19. However since December 2006, the writing has been on the wall for this once blue-chip company, which has seen revenue fall from $FJD23.2 million in 2015 to $FJ9,076,306 in 2020 and net profits drop from $FJD1.63 million in 2016 to $262,544 in 2020.

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McGarry barred from Vanuatu

Vanuatu Daily Post journalist Dan McGarry has been stopped from re-entering the country by Vanuatu immigration officials.

McGarry was until recently, the Media Director for the Daily Post. However the government earlier this month refused to approve his annual work permit renewal. He says this is due to the newspaper’s coverage of Vanuatu’s relationship with China.

Originally from Canada, McGarry is in the process of applying for dual Vanuatu citizenship.

He had been in Brisbane, Australia for a week with his partner. But when they tried to check in for a flight back to Port Vila on Saturday, they were told that Vanuatu Immigration had issued a notice barring the airline from uplifting him. His partner had to return home to their two children alone.

“Repeated attempts to obtain a copy of Vanuatu Immigration’s letter to the airlines were unsuccessful,” McGarry says. “How can I comply with Immigration’s demands if they won’t tell me what I need to do? I feel like a character in Catch 22.”

 “They’re doing what every guilty-minded government does when faced with inconvenient facts: they’d rather shut me up—and shut me out—than engage honestly with the public about the stories we report.”

Last week in a broad-ranging statement about the state of media freedoms and threats in the Pacific, the Melanesia Media Freedom Forum called on the Vanuatu government to uphold the appeal of the Daily Post against the rejection of McGarry’s work permit.

Fiji calls for media bids

by Anish Chand

Media organisations in Fiji which are to tender for government printing and broadcasting services have to show examples of commitment to national unity, national identity development and nation building.

Tenders for the publication and broadcast of government notices for the financial year 2018-2019 is now open.

The Fiji Sun newspaper was awarded the publication tender last year while the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited won the broadcast tender.

The tender documents that are now available online also outline a number of stringent checks that media organisations have to provide.

“Please provide details of any contempt proceedings, litigation actions of claims regarding unfair, unbalanced and inaccurate reporting, defamation or any breach of the Media Industry Development Act 2016 in the past 6 years,” reads the tender document.

Part of the contract with the publishing media company will be the requirement that “the bidder shall arrange for the publication of corrections at its own cost in the next publication”

“If the service of the bidder is unsatisfactory, government reserves the right to terminate the contract at anytime without notice at its sole discretion,” the tender document states.

As part of the tender requirement, bidding newspapers are required to provide circulation numbers for each day per division.

Radio and TV stations are required to provide details of their frequency reach and coverage.

The tender closes on 15 August 2018.

A win for Fiji Times

Fiji’s High Court in a landmark decision last month cleared the Fiji Times of sedition charges and declared its three newspaper executives free men.

The fourth accused, a letter writer to the newspaper’s Fijian language weekly, Nai Lalakai was also acquitted.

Although the office of Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions wasted no time in announcing it was appealing, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe’s 27-page judgement does offers some clarity on what constitutes sedition and what does not.

He had relied on a 1992 Fiji Court of Appeal case between the state v Mua, at which the presiding judge panels of Fiji Court of Appeal President, Mr Justice Michael Helsham, Sir Moti Tikaram, and Mr Justice Gordon Ward elaborated on what sedition is.

“The purpose of the offence is to prevent any unlawful attacks on the tranquillity of the State but it is not intended to prevent legitimate political comment. Deeply held political convictions frequently provoke strong emotions but there is authority to show that even strong or intemperate words or actions may not demonstrate a seditious intention if done with the purpose of expressing legitimate disagreement with the government of the day in terms of paragraphs (a)-(d),” Judge Rajasinghe quoted from the Fiji Court of Appeal judgement.

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Media freedom under attack

WITH the trial of three newspaper executives underway in Fiji in May on charges of sedition, the assault of a newspaper journalist in Papua New Guinea, the removal of the general manager and her news manager at the Tonga Broadcasting Commission and the re-introduction of libel laws in Samoa, press freedom is coming under severe attacks in all regions of the Pacific.

A survey by Islands Business reveal disturbing signs to silence or control the work of independent and free media in the islands, with most of these attacks orchestrated by public agencies. Equally alarming is the absence of a public outcry or condemnation from the media and the general public alike.

Long-time Pacific media commentator and journalist now director of the Auckland-based Pacific Media Centre and convenor of Pacific Media Watch, Professor David Robie believes media freedom in the Pacific has never been under severe stress as it is today.

“Ironically, in this digital era of social media and with a multitude of alternative and independent information sources and platforms available, mainstream media has faced a decline in media freedom. Notably two of the Pacific countries with the largest and strongest media industries,Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have faced a steady “chilling” in their discourse. Increasingly in PNG, for example, the public and journalists themselves are turning to independent and respected blogs for trusted and “real” information.

There is a mainstream media silence on many issues, especially the under-reporting of social justice issues, the plight of refugees after closure of the Manus detention centre, climate change, and West Papua.”

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