SACKING OF FIJI TIMES' CHIEF-OF-STAFF WISE STIRS CONTROVERSY

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By Joe Yaya

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 12, 2002 - Wansolwara Online/Pacific Media Watch)---The Fiji Times yesterday dismissed its controversial chief-of-staff, Margaret Wise, over claims she passed on information to other media sources after the newspaper's editors decided not to print a story in fear of a potential legal suit, reports Wansolwara Online.

A termination letter was handed [to her] at noon asking her to immediately vacate the premises. She had been with the Times for the past 10 years.

The controversy surrounds a news tip Wise received concerning a senior company executive who had allegedly assaulted his girlfriend while with his wife.

The Sun ran the story earlier in the week and quoted "inside sources."

Times publisher Tony Yianni told Wansolwara Online the company gave Wise a chance to explain her actions but she chose not to, contrary to reports in today's Daily Post.

"She was interviewed and she didn't say anything," Yianni said.

"She can always reply. She's replied to the media already."

Yianni said they had copies of written statements from the company executive and the parties involved in the assault denying the allegations, which were reasons for not running the story.

But Wise denied passing on any information, claiming the story was already public knowledge when she received the news tip.

"In fact, other reporters were asking the court registry about the hearing date of the assault case even before I heard about the incident," she told Wansolwara Online.

She said she only started asking questions when Times editor-in-chief Russell Hunter told her they could not print the story because no one had been officially charged by the police.

Wise said the newsroom staff also questioned the decision because they had previously reported stories naming people based on information supplied by the police, who confirmed that a complaint had been lodged and that an investigation was being carried out.

Wise confirmed writing to Hunter on behalf of the staff seeking clear guidelines on how such stories should be handled. She said she would take the case up with the trade unions and would also apply to the court to appoint an arbitrator to look into the matter.

Her claims that she was victimized by the company because of its close association with the chief executive concerned were denied by Hunter.

Labour minister Kenneth Zinck is reported saying in today's Sun that employers should always warn their employees before dismissing them.

"No employee is to be just sent home in a spur of a moment," Zinck said.

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