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Panpa Bulletin : November 2010
www.panpa.org.au The PANPA Bulletin | NOVEMBER 2010 | 7 Fresh faces How are you going to manage the government censorship at the Fiji Times? Free speech is very expensive here -- ask News Ltd. The past retaliation from this paper to the government censorship brought down censor- ship harshly on all media. It has been an unpleasant journey, perhaps even more so for our readers. It's breathtakingly simple to overcome. If you want to run a business -- and a newspaper ultimately is a profit or loss business -- you can get on with the task at hand or you can stand on your ethics and say goodbye -- it's re- ally that simple. I would hope that now they (the in- terim government) will begin to treat this local company as they treat all local companies: equally and without restriction to encourage employment and performance. So, hopefully they will learn to live with a press which is in step with them but will criticise from time to time. What was your biggest challenge coming to the Fiji Times? My biggest challenge was reach- ing a position where I could say the newspaper was in safe waters. My toughest job was to sit down with (former editor) Netani Rika -- and wediditoveraperiodoftimeina series of in-depth conversations -- and eventually he said, 'I am going to make the sacrifice and offer you my resignation'. My biggest challenge fell into my lap there and then. What will follow will be that the govern- ment will respond much better to us. Netani has been a terrific presence around the newsroom, and worked closely with his owners, News Ltd, who obviously have to believe in a free press. As I have said, it (a free press) doesn't work here. Netani took on the government and that was not wise or constructive. Netani was so against the government that it cost News Ltd the newspaper. News Ltd supported his right to free speech. Of course it did -- it had no option and it paid the price. What do you think the govern- ment is trying to achieve through censoring the media? Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is a Fijian working towards sharing his country with Indians. Not every Fijian likes that. The PM knows it must happen or the place is doomed; too many good Indians and others have deserted the place. I strongly agree with the PM's intentions and my paper will do what we can to achieve a means to a beginning for a nation with free speech. Why do you think the censorship was brought in initially? The censorship was to stop unfair criticism, incessant criticism, insist- ent, persistent criticism of the govern- ment. This is what a wide variety of good independent sources tell me. With anything the government did, there was a chance it would get a belt- ing from the Fiji Times. The Fiji Sun doesn't belt the government -- and now they are inundated with all their advertising, and the PM's photos at least once most days. It's hard to accuse News Ltd of doing anything wrong and censorship is unbeliev- ably stifling but a fact of life. If we are to do a job and continue to exist we have to find a way of removing the censor. The only way is to argue sensibly for the news we print. Where do you hope to take the paper? For all of its political turbulence over the past two decades, there is an amazing peace and serenity on the streets. What I am absolutely dedi- cated to is turning the Fiji Times into a newspaper which will help the gov- ernment go down the track it wants; the path most of the people here agree is the right path to go down. Can you tell me a little about your new editor, Fred Wesley? Fred is an imposing figure -- early 40s -- and was the former editor of the Sunday Times (the Fiji Times' Sunday sister). He has a keen interest in mar- keting and understands demograph- ics. He is a complete newspaper man. He has impressed me with his understanding of where we are -- that is, we can't function here by kicking the government around. The govern- ment has hurt the Fiji Times severely and they are happy about that. I would like to think it's all over now because Fred understands the role of the press. But he knows the current policies of the Bainimarama govern- ment are the only way Fiji can go. You were the publisher of the Fiji Times in 1976. What have been the biggest changes since then? They were the golden years. I came here and it was a very important pa- per and one which freely criticised the Ratu Mara regime. Often, he lis- tened us -- and me on the golf course. As I left Fiji, I thought how sad it was that this country, which has so much going for it, except that it has the insoluble problem of two totally dif- ferent races (Fijian and Indian) which had been ignored for many years. The difference now is that Baini- marama says these people are going to get together. The Australian press and the Australian government say: 'you can't do that -- you can't have a gun barrel government'. But they are wrong, it is the only way. There has to be a change here. You can see that there is agreement even by those who detest censorship and anything but democracy -- they understand that this is the only way to go. New Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead talks censorship, staff and the sale of the country's oldest newspaper when some thought it might close. He speaks to REBECCA LEAVER Academia for outspoken editor Rebecca Leaver - NPA Beginning of a new era at the Fiji Times . . . Dallas Swinstead and Fred Wesley take charge Netani Rika News Ltd supported his (Rika's) right to free speech. Of course it did -- as a free-speech publisher world-wide, it had no option" Dallas Swinstead " NETANI Rika, the former outspoken editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, has ac- cepted a job offer from the Australian National University (ANU), in Canberra. He will write an account of his four year editorship of a paper heavily con- trolled by the military government. Mr Rika told The Australian: "Doing some reflection at the ANU is some- thing I'd like to do. . . there are certain things I need to put in place before I can clear my mind to do something like that". Mr Rika said his job as editor of the Fiji Times put him under huge pressure. "In the beginning, there were physical attacks, then legal action, and finally legislation (a Media Decree) that forced the sale of the company." Mr Rika has been known for his terse and combative relationship with the military government, retaliating against the government censorship by leaving blank holes where censored stories were suppose to be, saying: "The stories on this page could not be published due to government restric- tions.''The censors made sure the stunt didn't last long. "We were always willing to print both sides of the story. But the cen- sors allowed only one side," he told The Australian. In such cases, the paper removed the stories altogether to spare readers being misled. He also famously walked out of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) conference in Vanuatu because a gov- ernment censor from Fiji's Ministry of Information was asked to appear on a panel. He was awarded the PINA Free- dom Award last year. Mr Rika left the paper after it was sold by News Ltd to Fijian company, the Motibhai group, chaired by Mahendra Patel. News Ltd was forced to sell Fiji's oldest newspaper due to new media regulations brought in by the military government which banned foreign investment above 10 percent in any Fijian media company.