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Qarase Says Media Coverage Of Land Issues Biased

Issue No: 409 24 January 2001

Interim regime Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase alleges that the coverage of land matters by the media is biased.

Speaking at the launch of a regional news magazine, Qarase said that too often the writers' own bias and preconceived ideas and sympathies are reflected in the reporting of the "important and racially sensitive issue of land and agricultural leases". He alleged that the stories on land usually depicted the tenant's side of the story, and that the reporters made no attempt to seek the viewpoints of the landowners.

Earlier, a Sunday Post columnist had questioned the total lack of TV coverage of land issues. The columnist wrote that he has "a feeling that Fiji TV has an unwritten policy of ignoring problems associated with one section of the community. Does it have anything to do with its shareholding composition? As far as Fiji TV is concerned, no problems exist in the sugar belts of West and Labasa. All is well as far as they are concerned and the land and farming community problems hardly make news in their shrinking local news slots.". The sentiments of inadequate coverage of local news by Fiji TV has been repeated in a letter by Frank Eggers in today's Daily Post.

During the past three months, only one media outlet has covered to some extent the massive evictions and dispossession of farmers. Ironically, the outlet, the Daily Post, is owned by the government. Qarase's attack on the coverage of land matters is seen as an indirect pressure on the Daily Post to stop covering farmer evictions and dispossession.

During the last three months, close to 1900 leases expired with a majority not being renewed. An estimated 3,000 families, including the families of relatives residing on the farms and farm workers, have been dispossessed. Such massive scale of dispossession within such a short period, is unprecedented in the entire Pacific region. Yet, these remained largely uncovered by the Fiji Times, the Fiji Sun and the Fiji TV.

Fiji TV has majority shareholding by Yasana Holdings Ltd, a company owned by the provincial councils, whose members also own 83% of all land in Fiji. The Fiji Sun has shareholding from the Fijian Holdings Ltd, a company derives its financial position from patronage of the regime and the provincial councils. The Fiji Times has senior editorial staff who are largely regime supporters and sympathisers.

Whether the lack of coverage is due to pressure from the shareholders, or whether stories from reporters on evictions are spiked, or whether the lack of coverage emerges from a lack of realisation of the extent of the human problem unfolding in Fiji, is not clear. The media has not responded to the assertions made by the Daily Post columnist, or to Qarase's claims.


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