"THE FIJI TIMES" FACES RENEWED PARLIAMENTARY PRIVILEGES THREAT

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IFEX ALERT UPDATE January 12, 1999

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva **Updates IFEX alerts of 8 June, 2 June, 28 May, 9 April and 6 April 1998; 8 October and 6 October 1997**

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 12, 1999 - PINA/IFEX)---Fiji’s biggest daily newspaper, "The Fiji Times," again faces the threat of action against it by the House of Representatives privileges committee, according to local news media reports. The opposition Fiji Labor Party wants an editorial comment, published by "The Fiji Times" on December 1, 1998, referred to the privileges committee.

Labor Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry claims "The Fiji Times" was "maliciously critical of parliamentarians without verifying the facts," according to a leaked copy of his letter of complaint. Extracts from Chaudhry’s letter were published in the "Sunday Post" of January 10, 1999.

In its editorial comment, "The Fiji Times" questioned the cost of meetings of new back bench parliamentary committees and the lack of provision for these in the budget.

"Despite the concerns previously expressed by a range of ministers, there is no limit on how long or how often these committees can sit," the editorial said. "It is a blank check. And anybody who does not expect MPs to take full advantage has been living on another planet. Many MPs will consider this their last chance to make a buck before the election (in May 1999). Make hay while the sun shines will be the motto --if Parliament insists on providing these committees with an open check."

Chaudhry said a cartoon on the same page as the editorial comment also portrayed parliamentarians in a bad light. "The fact is that the standing sector committees are provided for in the new constitution," he said.

Background

"The Fiji Times" has faced a number of actions by the privileges committees of the elected House of Representatives and appointed Senate over its reporting of their proceedings and its publication of leaked information.

On 5 June 1998 the Senate privileges committee ruled that "The Fiji Times" breached parliamentary privilege in a report and editorial of September 30, 1997. This had highlighted and questioned the cost to taxpayers of a twenty-minute meeting of the Senate. The Senate said no formal charges would be laid but that "The Fiji Times" be warned that any further breaches would have severe repercussions. Under Fiji’s Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act those found guilty of breaching parliamentary privilege can be jailed for up to two years.

"The Fiji Times" is a previous winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Award for its efforts to promote freedom of information and its defense of the public’s right to know.

For further information, contact Nina Ratulele, Coordinator, PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network, Pacific Islands News Association Mailing Address: Pacific Islands News Association, Private Mail Bag, Suva, Fiji Islands Street Address: Level 2, Damodar Centre, 46 Gordon Street, Suva, Fiji Islands TEL: +679 303623 FAX: +679 303943 E-mail: pina@is.com.fj Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA/

The information contained in this alert update is the sole responsibility of PINA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit PINA.

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