Dr Biman Prasad
The decision of the Fiji government to grant Fiji Television six months operating licence each time upon its expiry and the decision to advertise only in the Fiji Sun violate Sections 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of all those employed at the other television station (Fiji TV) and newspaper (Fiji Times).
These are the Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation.
We strongly believe that the Rights of Fiji TV and the Fiji Times as organisations are also violated, as both are locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry, which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution.
Ultimately, the Right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun.
The Rights breached are Section 17 (a) Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas and Section 25 (Access to information).
It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic Rights such as right to work, economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.
There is no legitimate reason to deny income to Fiji Times as well as information to its readers. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sun. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times’ anti-regime stance.
We now have parliamentary democracy.
If anything, tenders are called for any service required by government.
We are sure this was never done and still has not been done.
But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it s imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements.
The government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayer funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information is scandalous.
Similarly, the government’s policy to grant only six months operating licence to Fiji Television raises more questions about interference in employment issues as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice.
There can be no justification by Government to grant Fiji TV an operating licence of six months only.
In December 2014, the Board of Fiji TV was forced to unjustifiably remove its employees or transfer them based on a government directive.
In early 2010, two senior staff were transferred from the newsroom.
In 2013, the services of a veteran sports journalist were terminated even after providing a written apology to the Chief Executive of the Fiji Sports Council.
Early last year, another senior journalist who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago was asked to take leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license would be renewed for longer than six months. This did not happen.
Similarly, the Chief Executive and Head of Content of Fiji TV were sacked last year.
Fiji TV Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli’s said, “(Fiji TV) Board discussed changes in management to ensure that the government starts giving Fiji TV license to operate longer than six months. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries.”
Despite this, Fiji TV was once again issued a six-month license. On the other hand, FBC TV enjoys a long-term licence and rightly so.
A long-term licence gives employees security of employment. It provides investors confidence and generates revenue through negotiation of long-term advertising contracts. It also sends a very wrong signal to potential investors.
A six-month licence is like living on borrowed time.
It binds Fiji TV to the shackles of practicing censorship in news coverage for the fear of their licence not being renewed. Government is therefore holding Fiji TV to ransom.
If the government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far its newspaper advertising is concerned and grant Fiji Television a long term operating licence.
Biman Prasad is Member of Parliament and Leader of the National Federation Party in Fijian Parliament.