Fiji regime wants editor jailed

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 19:33 26/11/2012

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Fiji's military regime has asked a court to fine the country's major daily newspaper F$500,000 (NZ$342,000) and send its editor to jail for six months for printing a story first published in New Zealand's Sunday Star-Times.

The story last November quoted a comment made by Auckland based Oceania Football Confederation secretary-general Tai Nicholas who was critical of Fiji's military appointed judiciary.

Nicholas told the Fairfax Media owned Star-Times there was no judiciary in Fiji and that the place was run by a military regime.

The story was printed unchanged next day in the Fiji Times.

The military-appointed Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum filed contempt of court proceedings against Nicholas, who cannot now visit Fiji, and the Fiji Times.

The Fiji Times was found guilty of the contempt charge and was today before High Court Justice William Callanchini to discuss sentence.

Fiji media report that the acting Solicitor General, Sharvada Sharma, asked for the fine and the jailing.

Sharma said the Fiji Times is a repeat offender and an appropriate penalty needs to be imposed on the company to ensure that it serves as a deterrent for would be offenders.  

Sharma asked that publisher Hank Arts be given a three months suspended sentence due to his medical condition and six months prison sentence for editor Fred Wesley.

Fiji Times lawyer Jon Apted said the penalties should not be excessive and there should not be any imprisonment as this was a mistake by a third party.

He also said the mistake was not intentional.

Apted said Wesley, who was not present when the story was processed, was remorseful.

He said the sports editor did not read the full article.

He said the deputy sports editor reviewed the story and made a wrong decision as he was not aware of the legal implications.

Apted said that The Fiji Times like any other media outlet is facing great difficulties in attracting staff at the editorial level and they have lost senior people in the last few months.

The military, who seized power in 2006, have tightly controlled newsrooms with censors in place. Although censorship was lifted earlier this year, many journalists have left the industry.

Justice Callanchini reserved sentence.

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