Fiji Times slams military ruler's top lawyer

Fiji's top circulation newspaper today openly defied the nation's military rulers and claimed one of its top officials was not telling the truth.

A tough worded Fiji Times' editorial comes as Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama's coup regime escalated its action against the media, including throwing one newspaper publisher out of the country and dragooning radio journalists before soldiers over a story they did not like.

Last week the military appointed Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum summonsed Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah to his office to attack him over a leader page article he said the paper was about to print.

Hannah and Times editor Netani Rika said they had never seen the piece and it was not in the newspaper's database.

Earlier this week prominent Suva lawyer Graham Leung - who is acting for New Zealand businessman Ballu Khan - said he had been writing a feature on the government that he planned to submit to the Fiji Times.

He had not sent it to the paper, he said, but believed it had been hacked out of his computer by the military.

A former military lawyer himself, he said he got a phone call from a military number threatening him over the article which only then existed on his computer.

He then sent a copy to a public relations consultant, Matt Wilson, who then got a phone call from a military number, threatening him.

This was followed by Sayed-Khaiyum calling Hannah into his office.

Sayed-Khaiyum then said it had been an amicable meeting but he called on the media to be fair.

"If a media organisation wants to be a pro-political party or point of view, that's their prerogative but they need to tell the public that that is their position," he said.

The Fiji Times, which is one of the smallest publications owned by News Corp but one of the earliest purchases of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, hit back today with its editorial saying the attorney general had a duty to tell the people who gave him the documents.

"For more than a week, he has tried to create a situation in which to accuse the Fiji Times of attempting to destabilize the nation and the interim Government. We have done no such thing."

He had said the newspaper had a document which had been sent to Bainimarama, from persons within the newspaper.

"This is not true," the newspaper said.

"No member of staff of the Fiji Times had ever seen this document until it was shown to the publisher on Friday afternoon. It has never existed on any data base within the company."

The newspaper said the document Sayed-Khaiyum referred was created by Leung and was circulated to four people including Wilson who says the military have now threatened him.

"For the sake of transparency, we will admit that Mr Wilson was once chief reporter of this newspaper. If this is the link the interim Attorney-General makes between the document and the Fiji Times, we are disappointed.

"So what is the truth, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum?

"Who really gave you the document?"

It was impossible for the Fiji Times to publish material it did not possess.

"The interim Attorney-General should be ashamed of himself for creating a situation which never existed....

"Should Mr Sayed-Khaiyum have evidence to disprove our stand, it is time for him to put that material to the public.... It's time, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, to put up or shut up."

Earlier this month the military seized Russell Hunter, the publisher of the rival Fiji Sun. It had published articles critical of the personal tax behavior of the military's Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. Hunter was deported to Australia within 24 hours.

Five journalists from Fiji Broadcasting were also hauled before the military who objected to a story they had aired.

The head of Fiji Broadcasting, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the attorney-general's brother, defended the military stance saying the story had errors.

Ballu Khan is facing charges of conspiring to assassinate Bainimarama and Chaudhry. He was severely injured when the military seized him and is currently on bail. He will appear in a Suva court again next week.

Read the full editorial here

Fairfax Media