FIJI TIMES APOLOGIZES FOR 'FAT CATS' STORY

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 18, 2000 –Pacific Media Watch/Fiji Times/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The Fiji Times, the country's largest daily newspaper and the only foreign-owned one, has apologized for a business "fat cats" story in its long-running dispute with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry over media accuracy and professionalism.

(* See earlier story: PMW 2496 at http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/docs/jan00/2496.html and background on Fiji media war of words on Pacific Media Watch website at http://www.pactok.net.au/docs/pmw/)

In a report on January 18, 2000, the newspaper cited the front page story published the previous day, headlined "Share wealth, PM warns businesses," which quoted Chaudhry as saying: "The fat cats must learn to share."

Commenting in an editorial headlined "Why Robin Hood Won't Do," the Fiji Times attacked the prime minister over the corpulent fat cats statement, saying:

"Mr. Chaudhry appears to view the problem in terms of profit versus poverty. It's a 1950s view of the world that has in the past spawned government policies in many countries that aimed to alleviate poverty.

"All of them ultimately failed. Hammering the private sector will not assist the poor."

But on January 18, the newspaper admitted that Chaudhry did not use those words.

"The phrase was intended to sum up his overall message and the quotation marks were mistakenly added during the sub-editing process," the paper explained.

"The Fiji Times regrets and apologizes for the error."

In its news report, the Rupert Murdoch's News, Ltd.-owned newspaper said: "The Government has hit out at the Fiji Times report of Prime Minister Chaudhry's speech to the business community last week.

"The Ministry for Information said the Fiji Times front page report quoting the prime minister as describing the businessmen as fat cats who must learn to share was a fabrication.

"'This is the sort of irresponsible journalism that the Government has been complaining about. Mr. Chaudhry did not make a generalized statement accusing the business community of wallowing in wealth.'

"The statement said that this was part of what Mr. Chaudhry actually said:

"'I want to underscore (World Bank director) Mr. Wolfensohn's social message to those in the business sector who decry every move to help the poor, to help more people earn a decent livelihood for themselves.

"'These are people who already have plenty; they are wallowing in wealth and yet they begrudge a slight decline in their projects so others may live decent lives and eat two meals a day."'

In Chaudhry's original speech, he highlighted that more than 70 percent of the national wealth in the Fiji Islands was concentrated in the hands of just 10 percent of the population.

In recent months, the Fiji Times and the Government have been engaged in a war of words. Prime Minister Chaudhry and some ministers have accused the newspaper of lack of professionalism and of being biased against the Fiji Labour Party-led Government while the newspaper has in turn accused the government of waging a vendetta against it.

The Fiji Times is currently seeking a judicial review of a Government decision to bar renewal of the work permit of the paper's editor-in-chief Russell Hunter, a Scottish-born career journalist in the Murdoch publishing group.

Title -- 2498 FIJI: Fiji Times apologises for 'fat cats' story Date -- 18 January 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- PMW/FT, 18/1/00 Copyright – PMW Status -- Unabridged

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