Fiji AG, Opposition Leader Trade Harsh Words Over Government's PR Efforts

Sayed-Khaiyum rubbishes Prasad's allegation that Qorvis influences local media to print favorable stories

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 13, 2017) – Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum labelled comments made by National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad that Qorvis Communications was influencing media organisations in Fiji to report in favour of the Government as "utter nonsense".

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum and Prof Prasad had a heated exchange over the NFP leader's motion to remove $1 million [US$485,000] allocated to public relations firm Qorvis Communications because of its alleged interference.

The NFP leader claimed he had reliable information and evidence in writing to prove that Qorvis was meddling in local affairs and influencing governance issues and concocting public relation stunts.

"It is also trying to influence sections of the local media on what to provide while covering government events on personalities, including the Prime Minister," Prof Prasad claimed during the Committee of Supply on the 2017-2018 National Budget where Parliament is debating allocations to individual heads of the budget.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum interjected and said Prof Prasad should simply say "he wants Qorvis funding reduced because he believes that there is no need for Qorvis and he wants it removed".

"The honourable member is running some form of monologue diatribe about politics, meddling and all that," he said.

"Not for him to give this speculation and all this I have been reliably informed … Madam Chair, I can also sit here and speculate how he (Prof Prasad) is controlling the media through The Fiji Times.

"He is having coffee with people from Motibhai's in Nadi, all of these things are happening — I can speculate, I have evidence too."

This then resulted in a heated exchange between the A-G and the NFP leader. Speaker of Parliament Jiko Luveni called for an end to the exchange and stopped Prof Prasad from speaking any further on his motion.

Prof Prasad asked Mr Sayed-Khaiyum what was wrong in having coffee with anyone.

He then asked Dr Luveni why he was not allowed to continue because he was going to justify why the $1 million allocation should be removed. But Dr Luveni said the motion had been outlined sufficiently.

The motion was defeated.

Prof Prasad told The Fiji Times he did not need to justify why he was having coffee at a public outlet in Nadi.

"It is a public place. If anyone from Motibhai happens to be there, what is wrong? It is their business. I cannot stop anyone from entering a coffee shop or talking to me. That doesn't mean in any way that I am influencing them. And in the same vein, if I have coffee with the A-G, which I have had in Parliament and even chatted to him in private functions, does this mean that I am influencing him?

"This is nonsense. I respect the independence and impartiality of the media," he said.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum preferred not to comment on the justification given by Prof Prasad and said it was also silly for the Opposition to question the need to have Qorvis Communication when Fiji had local talents.

In a statement, the Motibhai Group said it disagreed with the comments made against it.

"Just to clarify, we have an iconic restaurant named ZigZag Cafe which is attached to our flagship Prouds Store in Nadi and people from all walks of life come to the restaurant on a daily basis," the statement said.

The statement said as a customer service, people from Motibhai Group often have tea or coffee with customers who walk into their Nadi store.

"The Fiji Times newsroom operates independently without any influence from its owners - Motibhai Group," the statement said.

Fiji Times Online.
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