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Fiji conglomerate adds publishing to holdings

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Sept. 15, 2010) - Rupert Murdoch's News Limited has reached an agreement to sell the Fiji Times newspaper to the Suva-based Motibhai group for an undisclosed sum.

[PIR editor’s note: The Motibhai Group, which grew from a small retail business operated by two brothers from India in 1931, is a Fiji-based conglomerate with enterprises including import and wholesale businesses, commercial property development and leasing, food and electronics retailing, and the Proud department store chain. Fiji Sun reports that "the proposed sale of the Fiji Times newspaper to Mahendra Patel's Motibhai Group is believed to exclude the valuable property the newspaper company operates from."]

The sale has been forced on News Limited by a media decree issued in June, requiring that all media be locally-owned by September 28.

News Limited Chief Executive, John Hartigan, admitted his company is a reluctant seller but said the sale represented the best possible outcome for the staff, advertisers and readers of the Fiji Times.

Moitbhai's Chief Executive, Mahendra Motibhai Patel, is a prominent Fiji businessman and a former Director of the Fiji Times.

Mr. Hartigan said he is delighted to have been able to find a buyer who would respect the newspaper's 142 year old heritage and invest in its future.

Mr. Patel said the Fiji Times will operate as an independent unit within the Motibhai group.

He told Pacific Beat that under Motibhai's ownership, the Fiji Times' editorial content will be decided by the new managing director and publisher together with a new editorial team.

But Mr. Patel said his company would work with the government.

"We will work with the government that is the government of the day, there is no reason why we wouldn't work with the government of the day."

Despite Fiji's current censorship laws, Mr. Patel said there were opportunities for the newspaper.

"Out of difficulties there are opportunities, opportunities of prompting our country, of prompting good thoughts to the people of the Fiji."

The sale is subject to final regulatory approval in Fiji and is expected to be completed by September 22.

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