November 04, 2011

ABC News: New man at the helm of Fiji Times

Dubravka Voloder reported this story on Thursday, November 3, 2011 18:38:00

MARK COLVIN: The current publishers of Fiji's oldest newspaper, the Fiji Times, are putting a new man at the helm for the third time in 14 months.

The Motibhai Group took over the company in September last year after the Bainimarama regime's media decree forced Australia's News Limited to sell the paper.

But that hasn't brought complete stability.

Dubravka Voloder reports.

DUBRAVKA VOLODER: Hank Arts is to become the third publisher of the Fiji Times since it was taken over 14 months ago.

He's believed to have worked in advertising and marketing for Fiji TV, for Fiji Airports and for the company, Rooster Poultry.

He will start the job early next year and says he looks forward to his new role.

But what's he getting himself into?

Russel Hunter is a former publisher of the Fiji Sun, who was deported by Fiji's regime three years ago.

RUSSEL HUNTER: I think he would have had to think very carefully before coming into this. It's an extremely difficult situation; the media has been turned into a regime PR exercise. Now how does a traditional, if you like, media practitioner fit into that? I'm not sure.

DUBRAVKA VOLODER: It's more than four years since Commodore Frank Bainimarama took control of Fiji in a military coup.

He's ruling the country by a number of decrees and has largely managed to silence his critics - the Methodist church, The Great Council of Chiefs and the media.

Jon Fraenkel is a senior research fellow at the ANU.

He says the Fiji Times has been struggling.

JON FRAENKEL: The Fiji times is still having trouble despite the fact that News International sold out and the newspaper has been very much influenced by the new media decree that outlaws foreign ownership of more than 10 per cent of media organisations.

It's still the case that the Fiji Sun, which has taken a more pro-regime line, gets all of the government advertising and as a result the Fiji Times has had some difficulties.

DUBRAVKA VOLODER: Jonathan Fraenkel says there's no easing of media censorship in Fiji.

JON FRAENKEL: There's no evidence that it's getting worse, we're not seeing more harassment of journalists, but on the other hand that's partly because the newspapers have self-censored and the kind of reporting that's coming out is really very limited, nothing critical of the regime. The key hopes of dissident voices are not allowed to be published in the print media or to appear on the TVs.

DUBRAVKA VOLODER: And a former Fiji human rights commissioner, Shamima Ali, agrees.

SHAMIMA ALI: Well I think it's the same as Iraq and, you know, we have censorship of the media, either censored from the military, from the police, from the minister of information who is regularly checking out stories and so on and newsletters and things that are distributed locally.

DUBRAVKA VOLODER: As a result, blogs and social media sites have exploded as an alternative for Fijians to exchange information and views.

MARK COLVIN: Dubravka Voloder.

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