Opposition fumes over sacking of TV chiefs

Opposition fumes over- Dr Biman Prasad Opposition fumes over- Ratu Isoa Tikoca

Dr Biman Prasad and Ratu Isoa Tikoca

The forced removal of Fiji Television Limited’s Chief Executive Officer Tevita Gonelevu and Head of Content Tanya Waqanika is clearly based on a Government directive through the Attorney General, Fijian Holdings Ltd Chief Executive Nouzab Fareed and Fiji TV’s Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli.

Not legitimate

This is clear in the absence of any legitimate reason for their termination of employment.

We base our conclusion on Mr Naiveli’s public statement reported by the media.

The Fiji Times reported Mr Naiveli as saying, “(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.”

This is not the first time that the Board of Fiji TV has been 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. Last year, a veteran sports journalist was terminated from service even after providing a written apology to the Fiji Sports Council Chief Executive.

Not appropriate

Early last year, another senior journalist, who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago, was asked to take a leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license would be renewed longer than six months. This did not happen.

Similarly, the removal of Mr Gonelevu and Ms Waqanika is a result of a directive of the Government, which, as majority shareholder of Fijian Holdings Ltd (FHL), is interfering in a commercial entity..

We firmly believe the sacking has nothing whatsoever to do with the commercial viability of Fiji TV or the restructure of the company. This was done anyway just last year with Mr Gonelevu seconded from FHL to head Fiji TV.

We therefore believe that both Fiji TV executives have been treated as sacrificial lambs after the government’s embarrassing handling of the broadcast saga of the HSBC World 7s series.

Government backtracks

In the end, the Attorney General was forced to backtrack on his insistence that the government had the right to share exclusive 7s feed obtained by Fiji TV with FBC TV, after he gave an undertaking that World Rugby Events, namely the HSBC 7s series and World Cup would be removed from the Television (Cross-Carriage of Designated Events) Decree.

This undertaking to World Rugby resulted in permission being granted to Fiji TV to enter into a sub-licensing agreement with FBC TV on terms agreeable to World Rugby.

This is very clear in the media release issued by World Rugby on the eve of the third leg of the 7s series held at Port Elizabeth, South Africa last month.

The Attorney General wrote to World Rugby on December 12, 2014 giving the undertaking to remove World Rugby Events from the designated list under the Cross-Carriage Decree. This followed the sub-licensing arrangement.

Opposition demands

The matter should have ended there but it did not. We therefore want Government to do the following and provide answers in the interest of transparency and accountability:

The Prime Minister as Minister for i-Taukei Affairs must institute an inquiry into the senior management of Fijian Holdings to ascertain if there is collusion between the senior management and any senior member of his Government because there is clearly interference into the commercial operations of FHL and its entity, Fiji TV;

Reveal to the people of Fiji the terms of the sub-licensing agreement between Fiji TV and FBC TV because there is a strong perception of the agreement being lopsided and in favour of FBC TV

Reveal to the people of Fiji how Fiji TV received funds for sharing of the live-feed of the Gold Coast 7s because, while the FBC Chief Executive told the media that the money was sent to the Ministry of Communications, the Fiji TV Chief executive has said that they did not receive any money

Reinstate Mr Gonelevu and Ms Waqanika to their respective positions and in the interest of natural justice carry out an investigation to ascertain whether they undermined the commercial interest of Fiji TV

Ask the Attorney General to release correspondence of approval from FIFA and World Rugby endorsing the sharing of exclusive feed for the FIFA World Cup in June/July and Gold Coast 7s in October. World Rugby also requested this in its letter to the Attorney General on December 4, 2014.

We believe that the Prime Minister should take decisive action now.

This will ensure that there is no erosion of investor confidence due to the fear of Government interference. It will also bury the perception that Fiji TV is being gradually forced into merging with the fledgling FBC TV which owed (as at the end of last year) more than F$20 million to Fiji Development Bank through a loan guaranteed by Government and Taxpayers.

Dr Biman Prasad is Leader of National Federation Party in Fijian Parliament and Ratu Isoa Tikoca is the Chief Opposition Whip. The above was a statement issued by them on December 18, 2014, when we were on holiday.

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