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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 9, 1999 - Asia-Pacific Network/Pacific Media Watch/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The Fiji Government has confirmed plans to buy out the Fiji Development Bank's shares in the Daily Post newspaper for $505,000, but says it will not interfere in the editorial policy of the outspoken paper.

Fiji faces a general election next year and in recent months the Daily Post editor Jale Moala and political columnist Mesake Koroi, who is also the paper’s chief-of-staff, have been critical of the policies of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s government.

Finance Minister Jim Ah Koy was quoted in the Fiji Times today as saying that fears that the government would move to control the editorial policy of the newspaper were baseless.

The Fiji Times reported the buy-out plans on the front page and Fiji Television last night featured public concerns over the newspaper’s future as its lead item.

Fiji TV said few staff knew about the change in ownership.

But the Daily Post (circulation about 17,000) today did not report the share transfer plans.

Fiji has just two daily newspapers. The rival Fiji Times, the second-largest circulation newspaper in the Pacific, is owned by a Murdoch News Corp. subsidiary and has also been critical of the government.

The Fiji Times quoted Finance Minister Jim Ah Koy as saying: "We own 100 percent of Island Networks (the state-run broadcaster) and had shares in television. But we do not interfere with editorial content. We might express our disappointment with some policies but that is where it ends," he said.

"Why are people so concerned that we plan to buy these shares when we already were owners of these same shares through Fiji Development Bank, which we own?

"And anyway, the government can change tomorrow, so it will belong to whoever makes up the next government."

Ah Koy said the 470,000 shares held by the FDB would be bought for $505,000 at about $1.06 per share.

The FDB yesterday told the Fiji Times that the deal had not been finalized yet.

The FDB owns 44 percent of the newspaper company while the remaining shares are held by the insurance company Colonial and the Unit Trust.

Ah Koy told news media the proposal to buy shares was for economic reasons.

Media sources said they did not expect the transfer of shares to be approved by Parliament in the current session.

Title -- 1915 MEDIA: Fiji Government plans buy out of shares of critical newspaper Date – February 9, 1999 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- APN, 9/2/99 Copyright – APN Status -- Unabridged

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