Sodelpa and Fiji Sun plan court action over MIDA ruling
A member of Fiji's opposition Sodelpa party is planning to take the country's largest newspaper, the Fiji Sun, to court in the wake of a MIDA ruling. But the Fiji Sun is planning court action too.
A member of Fiji's opposition Sodelpa party is planning to take the country's largest newspaper, the Fiji Sun, to court for what he says is consistently unfair reporting.
The action follows a ruling by the Media Industry Development Authority against two Fiji Sun articles about the opposition.
But the newspaper is also threatening legal action, saying MIDA's decision threatens to stifle journalism in Fiji.
Jamie Tahana reports.
The Fiji Sun has often been criticised by opposition politicians for favouring the regime in its political coverage. But the youth leader of the opposition Sodelpa party, Peter Waqavonovono, says two articles published last year in the Coconut Wireless section crossed the line.
PETER WAQAVONOVONO: I made two complaints to the MIDA, the first complaint basically had to do with an article written by a journalist at the Fiji Sun newspaper basically saying that I needed to shave, I needed deodorant and that I needed to be cleaned out of the Sodelpa party. I took great offence to that article.
Mr Waqavonovono also complained about another article with the headline "Person of the Year: The PM who delivers" that accused opposition parties of being racist and divisive. MIDA ruled that article was antagonistic, thoroughly yoked in the logic of race and bereft of facts, while the article about Mr Waqavonovono's facial aesthetics and scent was defamatory and incriminating in nature.
PETER WAQAVONOVONO: Given the political sensitivity of the subject, it was incumbent on the Fiji Sun to substantiate its claims and in the interests of ensuring balance and fairness, the Sodelpa be given some representation in this report and the Fiji Sun failed to do that....columns such as Whispers and Coconut Wireless must adhere to the protocols of responsible journalism.
Mr Waqavonovono says while he's pleased MIDA ruled in his favour, the response is nothing more than a strongly-worded yet toothless letter. But the Fiji Sun has rejected the ruling. In an article in Monday's edition, the publisher Peter Lomas says the journalist concerned Jyoti Pratibha's reporting has been targeted through a smear campaign by people linked to the opposition. Mr Lomas says all media should be concerned by the ruling, which could mean journalism can be stifled by the opinion of one man -- the MIDA chair Ashwin Raj. He says the Fiji Sun's lawyers will be looking at all options in response. The chair of the Fiji Media Association, Ricardo Morris, says the case highlights a number of issues with media regulation in Fiji -- most notably the 2010 Media Decree -- and could be the catalyst for change.
RICARDO MORRIS: In this case the Fiji Sun does have a point in that decisions being made by one person limits free speech on the basis of what one person rules. I think this case will probably bring these issues out to the fore and, you know, bring it out into the public discussion that we need. So I think this will be the catalyst for a bit more deeper introspection into what the media authority is about.
Sodelpa has been vocal in its criticism of MIDA, and Peter Waqavonovono says he still stands by that criticism despite taking the complaints to MIDA. Mr Waqavonovono says the authority is an unnecessary and toothless agency of the state, as seen by its response to his complaints. Instead, he says he plans to take the Fiji Sun to court for what he calls consistently unfair reporting about the opposition.
PETER WAQAVONOVONO: I'm hoping to take a lot of people along with me. So I'm just encouraging as many people who feel they have been defamed, who feel they have been misrepresented by the Fiji Sun and we're all going to pitch in and take this mega newspaper to court.
MIDA's chairman, Ashwin Raj, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
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