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Ousted govt accuse Fiji Times of misreporting

Ousted government accuse Fiji Times of misreporting

* Pacific Media Watch Online: * Post a comment on PMW's Right of Reply:


* See Pasifik Nius items 3166, 3165

SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): The Fiji military and the ousted elected government have both accused the Fiji Times of misreporting, appealing to the newspaper and other news media to be "more responsible", say local reports.

The reports follow a front-page story on 24 January 2000 and editorial (Jan 25) in the Fiji Times about an apparent ultimatum to the interim regime during a presidential briefing that the military would maintain law and order for a constitutionally legal government if the Appeal Court next month upholds a ruling that the administration is illegal.

The newspaper had also reported that the military would seek foreign help if it was unable to maintain national security.

Both rival daily newspapers, the locally owned Fiji Sun and government-owned Daily Post, ran full page military advertisements on January 26 saying: "The RFMF has in the past several days found the Fiji Times and its editorials contemptible for its failure to correct its misguided reports."

No similar advertisement was published in the Murdoch-owned Fiji Times, the country's major daily.

President Jokapeci Koroi, president of the Fiji Labour Party, which won a landslide victory in the May 1999 general election and formed a coalition government ousted by a coup a year later, was quoted in the Fiji Times on January 27 as saying her party deplored what she called the Fiji Times' tactics in publishing the army's submission presented to interim President Josefa Iloilo and then pursuing reactions from indigenous Fijian groups.

"The Fiji Times has today [Jan 26] run comments from provincial councils denouncing the army stand," she said.

"But as far as the public is aware, no provincial council meetings have been held. So where are these comments coming from?" she asked.

Koroi said the newspaper had used "the same tactics" against the People's Coalition government by stirring the indigenous people against it and "fanning the fires of racism and sedition".

In a media release issued by the coalition and posted on its website on January 26, titled "Military says Fiji Times misreports", the army was described as responding to the Fiji Times' story "about the military giving a presentation to the President and the [interim Prime Minister Laisenia] Qarase cabinet on Monday, its subsequent attempts to seek and publish anti-military comments, and an editorial which has called for the military to take a backseat and support Qarase's regime".

The release also said: "Earlier an independent academic had blamed the Fiji Times for running a relentless campaign against the democratic government of Fiji.

"A former deputy speaker of Parliament has also stated that the Fiji Times survives by running campaigns to destroy the credibility of democratically elected leaders."

The military said in its advertisements: "It is most unfortunate that the Fiji Times has chosen to sensationalise bits and pieces of the brief [to the President], which has succeeded in inciting public reaction even before the [Appeal Court] ruling has been delivered. It has, in the process, also succeeded in unnecessarily inducing public fear and anxiety."

In its January 25 editorial, the Fiji Times had criticised the military's stance, asking whether it wanted to "scare" the interim regime into submission.

"If the military continues to stick its nose into political affairs it will succeed only in undermining public confidence in the authorities, interim or otherwise.

"In turn, investors will lose confidence, jobs will be lost and everyone suffers.

"That should not be allowed to happen."

* Fiji has been in the grip of an ongoing political crisis since last year's May 19 coup by businessman George Speight who seized Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his elected government, holding them hostage for 56 days. Speight and 12 of his supporters now face treason charges.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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