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We didn't breach licence, says Fiji TV chief after warning



(PINA/IFEX) - On 3 March 1999, Fiji Television reassured viewers and
shareholders that it has not breached the terms of its licence by
broadcasting an interview with the country's retiring army commander.
Chief executive Peter Wilson issued a statement following comments by
Attorney-General Ratu Etuate Tavai that Fiji Television could lose its
exclusive licence to operate a national free-to-air service, Fiji One,
and two pay channels. Government ministers questioned the interview with
former army commander Ratu Epeli Ganilau, who spoke of his plans to
stand for a rival party in general elections in May.





**Updates IFEX alerts of 2 March, 11 February, 10 February and 9
February 1999**

Wilson's statement said: "We are confident that broadcasting an
interview with a public figure does not breach the terms of Fiji TV's
licence, and is in fact the normal business of television news and
current affairs."

A 3 March report in the "Daily Post" said: "The Attorney-General Ratu
Etuate Tavai yesterday warned Fiji One Television to follow policies
laid down in its broadcasting licence. He said as far as he was
concerned Fiji TV should have sought the Minister of Information's
approval for airing the interview, especially when it had political
elements. He said the government was still going to lay down a policy on
campaign broadcasting." The "Daily Post," in which the government is now
the main shareholder (see IFEX alerts), also said Tavai questioned
statements by Wilson that the interview was a normal
news and current affairs item. The newspaper quoted the Attorney-General
as saying: "That is not true. They had to withdraw the 60 Minutes
programme to give Ratu Epeli special treatment."

A statement issued later in the day by the Ministry of Information said:
"The Ministry of Information is of the view that TV ONE, in broadcasting
its interview with Ratu Epeli Ganilau on Sunday 28 February 1999,
exercised its rights to determine its programme as permitted under the
terms of its operating licence. The government has no intention of
either challenging or interfering in these matters where they are
lawfully conducted. The government, however, hopes that TV ONE will
ensure that in a climate where the country is preparing for a general
election, TV ONE will accord equal treatment to all registered political
parties."

Background Information


According to local news media, on 2 March Cabinet ministers discussed
the interview. The Prime Minister's Office then asked the Ministry of
Information to seek clarification from Fiji Television about its policy
on political interviews. The government moves were strongly criticised
by the country's biggest daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times." In the
interview, Ganilau, who comes from an influential chiefly family, said
he left the army to stand as an election candidate for an indigenous
Fijian Christian party, Vaetokani ni Lewenivanua Vakarisito. This party
is opposing the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei-led government of Prime
Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, also
a former army commander and leader of two 1987 coups.

On 10 February, the Finance Minister, Jim Ah Koy, announced the
government had become the main shareholder in the English-language
"Daily Post" and its Fijian-language weekly "Na Volasiga." It bought a
forty four percent share previously held by the Fiji Development Bank.
This move came just three months before the country's first general
elections under a new constitution replacing one imposed after two 1987
military coups. The government's move was condemned by PINA and
opposition political parties.

The Fiji Islands returned to elected government in 1992, and its news
media are again regarded as among the most free and diverse in the
Pacific Islands. There are independent newspapers, magazines, and
broadcast stations. While the government has also had strong involvement
in ownership of the broadcast media, the print media had, until the
Government's move into the "Daily Post", been independent. The other
daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times," is part of Rupert Murdoch's News
Corporation and also publishes the Fijian-language weekly "Nai Lalakai"
and the Hindi weekly "Shanti Dut."







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