Thursday, February 28, 2008

The 2007 FHRC Report On Fiji's Fourth Estate.

Fiji media still reeling from the Russell Hunter removal are now circling their wagons with the recent release of the Fiji Human Rights Commission(FHRC) media report of 2007, which was compiled by Dr. James Anthony. The entire report(PDF) available here.

A Fiji Times article reports that release.

The excerpt of FT article:

Media report released

Thursday, February 28, 2008

THE Fiji Human Rights Commission has released a report on its findings on media independence.

Media officer Erica Lee confirmed last night that the report was released yesterday.

The inquiry was carried out by Doctor James Anthony last year.

He conducted the inquiry in consultation with individuals, political parties, Government Ministers, NGOs, members of the judiciary, church leaders, trade unionists and some members of the media.

Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Netani Rika said the report was disturbing for a number of reasons which the company will respond to today.

"Although it is safe to say that it appears to be malicious, full of conjecture and untruths written by a person who had obviously formulated an opinion before arriving in the country," he said.

Communications Fiji Ltd, the parent company of radio stations and website Fiji Village was quick to ridicule the findings, as reported in an article from Fiji village.

The excerpt of FV article:

FHRC report baseless-Parkinson
Publish date/time: 28/02/2008 [15:23]

Skin colour has nothing to do with how the media organizations in the country operate and provide news to the people.

Communications Fiji Limited Managing Director William Parkinson has labeled the FHRC Report compiled by James Anthony on the media in Fiji as absolutely baseless. Parkinson has also criticized the recommendations by Doctor Anthony that Fiji Human Rights Commission should take necessary steps to strongly recommend to government that all existing work permits in the media industry not be renewed and that no further work permits be issued. He has questioned why only the media is being targeted.

Parkinson has also lashed out at the FHRC for listing a number of companies including media houses as members of the SDL's Duavata Initiative Company without any evidence.
Meanwhile, Parkinson said that some media companies will go bankrupt if the government comes up with a 7 percent tax across the board on all media advertising revenue and further 7 percent on all revenue generated from licence and monthly user fees on consumers as recommended by Dr. Anthony.

Editor of Fiji Times, Netani Rika has strongly condemned the contents of the Fiji Human Rights Commission report which is blaming the media for the 1987 coup. Rika said Dr. Anthony should understand that the coups have not been staged by any media organization. Rika added that Dr. Anthony's allegations are baseless and its his personal view that white men are running the show in the media industry.

Meanwhile, other media organizations are still going through the report and are expected to comment later today.

Doctor James Anthony writes that the power of the media was found to be in the hands of about eight whites (mostly expatriates) operating in the shadows, acting in concert as members of a private club, deciding not only what to print but also deciding what not to print.

It is rather laughable that Parkinson and Rika both used the word "baseless" in the FV article as if they reading from well rehearsed talking points. In the interest of education, it is best that the public read the report and make up their own conclusions without relying on the media to dish out their own hostile reactions.

Other commentators like 1987 coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka also weighed in the report, which was published in an article by Fiji Village.

Media Not Cause of 1987 Coup
Publish date/time: 28/02/2008 [15:05]

The leader of the 1987 coup and former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is shocked to find out that the Fiji Human Rights Commission report is blaming the 1987 coup on the actions taken by the media.

In his report to the Human Rights Commission on the Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji, Hawaii based, Doctor James Anthony writes about one of his sources who said that the media had consistently blown things out of proportion and among others, Rabuka has already stated that the media was very substantially responsible for creating the problem with which Fiji was faced with and by which he had been sucked in.

Doctor Anthony in his report to the FHRC also writes that Rabuka saw himself as being the dupe of a disinformation campaign and Rabuka himself apparently admitted, privately, that he was caught up in a hysteria generated by the media.

Rabuka has denounced all these claims in the report and stresses that the media had nothing to do with the actions that he took on May 14th, 1987. Rabuka said he never met with anyone from the FHRC or Doctor Anthony and does not agree with what has been said about the 1987 coup.

Meanwhile, the report also states that after the December 5th takeover, the military began to analyze the role of the media industry in the polarization of Fiji's two major races, which had deepened and widened over the years.

Doctor James Anthony writes that the power of the media was found to be in the hands of about eight whites (mostly expatriates) operating in the shadows, acting in concert as members of a private club, deciding not only what to print but also deciding what not to print. He further writes that this power not to print, the power to censor news, the power to decide what was fit to be printed, to be aired, was a power that was exercised with stealth. It said that the power was exercised in the corridors of power, away from the daylight of the common forum, away from the spotlight of public attention.

Doctor Anthony writes that it was an exercise of power to protect the power of a complex web of cross owners sitting in crucial positions on a wide range of Board of Directors. He went on and said that what one local author has previously called an "oligarchy of barons" once white, now of various shades, their hands in almost every major pie in the country. The report further said that self regulation has failed and the Media Council is a white man's club and is a do nothing body.

Several allegations have also been made in the report with Doctor Anthony quoting several submissions provided by confidential sources. There is also a long list of companies, including media houses listed as members of the SDL's Duavata Initiative Company.

The list is just typed out without any reference on where the information has been received.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fiji TV: Fuzzy & Misleading Reporting.

In the wake of the Russell Hunter story, which some circles in the Fiji media have labeled 'intimidation' or a 'threat to media freedom'. Hunter was interviewed by Radio NZ podcast.

Fiji media should be made aware of the legal precedent in a 1919 US Supreme Court case, Schenck v. United States.

The ruling:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Another side to the media's coverage of the story was lamented in a posting by Oceanic blogger and IT developer, Jonathan Seagal who is subsequently crying foul after being interviewed by Fiji TV. Seagal claims that the interview was sliced and diced to show a different story from what he told.

I received a call yesterday afternoon from a reporter at FijiTV. She wanted to ask me questions about email security as it related to this news story. I answered her questions but then she asked whether they could film me on camera. I told her I wasn't comfortable with that given the current environment but she insisted that this was completely non-political. Stupidly, I relented.

She came over and asked me some initial questions about email security and how someone could gain access to other people's email. I said some things about how people inside a company can have access, how Internet providers can have access, etc...

The conversation then seemed to shift over to these email documents which, if FijiTV is to be believed, were at the center of this deportation story.

Next thing I know, I'm being asked about these documents and if they were genuine.

Of course, I had no idea if they were genuine at all and said that repeatedly. The reporter asked questions like "but its certainly possible these printed emails were fabricated, right?" The way it was presented on air though is demonstrated below [posted youtube video]:

"Segal SAYS they could be fabricated." is really quite different from "Segal AGREED they could be fabricated." The latter alludes to someone else coming up with that ridiculous notion.

I've experienced this before with FijiTV. Yeah, I know I'm the one who opened my mouth at the end of the day. I've been quoted before in print many times and never run into the kind of editing FijiTV tends to do.

Rizwan Dean, another blogger with IT background, whose latest posting lashes out at Fiji TV for their shameful editing process as well using other respected people as a proxy for their gutter reporting. Rizwan further lampoons the 5 day turn around for addressing complaints, in a lame response from Fiji TV CEO Mesake Nawari to Seagal.

I've noticed that whenever FijiTV wants to air something controversial which they know will land them in hot water, they get other people to do it so they can shift the blame.

Its a little sad that they used an unsuspecting IT Professional to do their dirty work and then twisted his professional opinion and almost made it sound like a political one. This is fairly common with the rest of the media industry in Fiji and it perhaps explains why people really don't believe anything thats published these days or are just tired of reading[...]
Fiji's media are always harping on about media freedom and the right of the press to report what they feel is important - perhaps they need to realize that media freedom is not simply about reporting rubbish and forgetting the real issues and the true side of a story.

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Don’t renew media work permits: FHRC

The Fiji Human Rights Commission will strongly recommend to the Government that all existing work permits in the media industry not be renewed.It has also been recommended that no further work permits be issued.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Drive By Journalism - A Case in Fiji.

The recent deportation of Fiji Sun's publisher, Russell Hunter was covered in a posting in David Robie's blog Cafe Pacific.
A prequel to the media's relationship with the state was summed up in a factual expose published by RMIT's 'The Fifth Estate' written by Crystal Ja.

Entrenched pundits have labeled this as a crackdown on media freedom. However, a previous SiFM posting "Fiji Media and Ethical Deviations" identifies a similar track record of slantness.

David Robie's take on the Fiji Time's role in pre-2000 coup had said
"The Fiji Times, [...] raged a relentless campaign against the Chaudhry government not long after its election in 1999. In spite of its claims to the contrary, that [Fiji Times] treated all governments of the day similarly, the newspaper was blatantly agnostic," Robie claimed, adding that the "newspaper's reporting was spearheaded by a journalist with close ties with opposition indigenous nationalists."

The journalist identified by Robie, as spearheading the 'agnostic' perception could be no one other than former Fiji Times Editor, Samisoni Kakaivalu; who now is employed by Fiji Sun.

It certainly not surprising that Fiji Sun's publisher, Russell Hunter had re-united with Kakaivalu at Fiji Sun (both formerly employed by Fiji Times) and coalesced their ulterior motives into syndicated opinions, the corner stone of"drive-by journalism". Fiji Sun with the dubious duo at the helm had released the tax records of Interim Finance Minster, Mahendra Chaudhry according to an article published by "The Australian". Both Hunter and Kakaivalu had conspired in a similar scenario demonstrated in the Fiji Times coverage of Chaudhry soon after his water-shed election win in 1999.

"The Fiji Times, the country's largest daily newspaper and the only foreign-owned one, has apologised over a business "fat cats" story in its long-running dispute with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry over media accuracy and professionalism. "

Fiji Media Council's Chairman, Daryl Tarte defended the media and stated in a Fiji Times article that "The media's task in any society is to reflect the opinion of the people of the nation, said Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte".

Indeed, Tarte's defense of the media cartel was predictable, however the comments begged the question of whether the opinion of the nation was accurately documented and also does that opinion come before or after the media's reflection. In a nutshell, which comes first "the media reflection" or "the nation's opinion"?

Despite the Fiji Times editorial of Weds. Feb 27th 2008, which deplored the deportation of Fiji Sun's publisher, Russell Hunter; was the Fiji Times equally, less or more deplored when the Fiji TV news studio was ransacked in post 2000 coup, covered by an article by International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)website.

The excerpt of the FT editorial:

We are no threat

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

THE deportation of Fiji Sun Publisher Russel Hunter as a security risk to this nation is deplorable.

And his treatment as a human being was reprehensible. Taken from his home under the cover of darkness, he was driven to Nadi without being given time to change or say a word of farewell to his wife Martha and their daughters.

His cell phone removed, Mr Hunter was placed on a flight to Australia with but $20 in his pocket. To add salt to the wound, he was made to stand with his face to the wall in the Nadi International Airport, watched by officials who claimed to be Immigration Department officers. Of course, hundreds of tourists and airport staff witnessed this indignation. Even convicted fraudster Peter Foster was treated better than Mr Hunter.

Is this how low we have stooped as a nation, that someone accused of committing a crime against the State is not even treated with basic dignity?

And has justice been removed to the extent that officials refused to acknowledge a High Court injunction stopping the Immigration Department from deporting the Australian national?

Since when have our citizens or indeed visitors to this country been bundled away at night without the right to defend themselves before a magistrate or judge.

In removing the publisher of a newspaper, and given the tone of the interim Prime Minister in his attack on the press corps on Sunday, it is safe to assume this is an act of intimidation.

The Police Commissioner joined the fray on Monday, warning those who continued to speak out against the regime could face charges of incitement. These statements contradict Commodore Bainimaramas reassurances in the past, and again yesterday, that his administration will uphold media freedom.

A truly democratic Fiji can only come about by allowing the people to make their views known through a free, vibrant media. By stifling debate, no government will ever have a true reading of the political temperature of the nation.

The media raises the concerns of the people and points the government towards their concerns and the issues they want addressed.

Neither this newspaper, nor any media organisation in this country wants to run the nation. We merely have the nation at heart and bring together the beliefs of the government, its supporters and detractors, for all to see.

Today, we echo the words of Kenyan publisher George Githii: For governments which fear newspapers, there is one consolation: We have known many instances when governments have taken over newspapers, but we have not known a single newspaper which has taken over a government.

Although, Fiji Times Editorial hides behind the veneer of Githii's words "[...]we have not known a single newspaper which has taken over a government" which is correct in the literal context. However, a newspaper may facilitate over taking a government by preying on stimuli that can agitate a population, as seen in the recent Fiji Times coverage of the Krishnamurthi proposal for de-reserving native land.

Fiji Times coverage of Mahendra Chaudhary after his 1999 election, has been far from from impartial or objective according to Pacific Media Watch (PMW)article.

The excerpt of PMW article:


SUVA, Fiji Islands (PMW): The Fiji Times, the country's oldest and major daily newspaper, has accused the Government of "conducting a vendetta" against it following a bitter personal attack in Parliament against its acting editor and two journalists.

On 24 November 1999, a parliamentary backbencher from the ruling Fiji Labour Party, Muthu Swamy, made allegations in the House of Representatives over the personal and professional integrity of the three journalists.

"The Fiji Times often talks about the conduct of politicians and civil servants but not about its own staff," Swamy said, according to the newspaper's full page coverage of the affair on Nov 25.

Taking advantage of parliamentary privilege, Swamy took a long-running Government attack on the Fiji news media to a new level by citing the three local journalists:

# Political reporter Margaret Wise - who has been previously accused by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry of anti-government bias in her reporting - for being "charged with [being] drunk and disorderly and locked up in a police cell for 11 and a half hours".

# Reporter Matelita Ragogo for being "arrested and charged by police for drunk and disorderly behaviour".

# Acting editor Netani Rika - known for a trenchant weekly satirical column about politics and politicians - for alleged "involvement in the embezzlement of funds" at a local branch of an international bank.

Swamy also showed pictures in Parliament of Wise sleeping in a shared hotel room with a male colleague at a media convention in Vanuatu in 1996. A separate news story in the Fiji Times reported allegations that the photographs had been stolen from the flat of Hemant Vimal Sharma, editor of Shanti Dut, a Hindi-language sister newspaper to the Times.

Sharma's flatmate, Assistant Information Minister Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi, reportedly also denied possession of the photographs.

Another daily, the Fiji Sun, in an editorial on Nov 25 condemned the use of Parliament as a "battle ground" instead of a debating chamber in the attack on individual journalists.

"The Government and the media have been at loggerheads for some time now," the paper said.

"Both sides are invoking privileges - the Government its parliamentary right and the media its freedom of speech licence.

"It is a question of rights. Is it not also a question of responsibilities and duties?"

Alan Robinson, publisher of the Fiji Times, owned by the Rupert Murdoch News Ltd group, was quoted by his newspaper as describing the remarks in Parliament as a disgrace to the House and to Fiji.

Robinson challenged Swamy to repeat his claims outside Parliament where he did not have legal protection from prosecution. "We can stand his attack on the Fiji Times, baseless though it is. But when he uses his position to attack individuals, it is time to draw the line," [Robinson] said.

"We challenge Mr Swamy to repeat his disgusting attack without hiding behind the skirts of parliamentary privilege. It should now be clear to all that the Government, its ministers and backbenchers are conducting a vendetta against the Fiji Times. We'd like to know why."

In an editorial headlined "Only a coward will hide", the Fiji Times claimed Swamy had "savagely abused the ancient (and very necessary) privilege of Parliament to attack three individual journalists".

The paper confirmed that reporter Ragogo had been charged with being drunk and disorderly, but said the charge had been withdrawn; political reporter Wise "after being harassed by a taxi driver" had been charged with damage of his vehicle not with being drunk and disorderly; and added that Swamy "cannot support [the embezzlement] allegation" against Rika.

"This newspaper will continue to cover the news as best it can - without hiding behind the protection of any legal privileges," the Fiji Times said.

"As for Mr Swamy and his faceless manipulators, we now publicly challenge them to repeat those allegations outside Parliament and face the consequences - or withdraw and apologise. To do otherwise will be the act of a coward."

A second article published in 2000 by PMW regarding the Fiji Times slanted coverage.

The excerpt:

SUVA, Fiji Islands (PMW): The Fiji Times, the country's largest daily newspaper and the only foreign-owned one, has apologised over a business "fat cats" story in its long-running dispute with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry over media accuracy and professionalism.

In a report on 18 January 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 Jan 18, the newspaper admitted that Chaudhry did not use those words: "The fat cats must learn to share".

"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 apologises 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 generalised 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 [James] 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 per cent of the national wealth in the Fiji Islands was concentrated in the hands of just 10 per cent 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 coalition 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.

# In a letter to Pacific Media Watch (Jan 21), Fiji Times editor-in-chief Russell Hunter said he was "baffled" over the PMW report over the "fat cats" quote affair. His letter said:

Firstly The Fiji Times absolutely did not apologise for the "fat cats" story. We apologised for presenting a paraphrased report as a direct quote. We have no intention of apologising for the story and haven't been asked to.

Secondly, our editorial did not attack the PM over any "corpulent fats cats story" as you report. It did not do so for the very simple reason that the editorial was written in the full knowledge that Mr Chaudhry did not use those words. As was publicly explained, the quote marks were added in error.

In fact, the editorial stated that even the most corpulent of fat cats would agree with the PM's position.

Secondly (sic), you proceed to give great space to the Ministry of Information's statement without revealing to your readers that we published it, or that we published the apology and correction without being asked to.

Your highly selective quotation from our editorial gives, to put it mildly, a distorted view of what was actually said, while quoting (almost) in full the ministry's response.

That's a pity as many people outside the region depend on PMW for a balanced view of what's going on. They certainly didn't get that from this story.

Lastly, if being a News Ltd employee for six years of my 31 in this industry makes me "a career journalist in the Murdoch publishing group" that's fine by me. Others might differ.

# Pacific Media Watch's reply:

We are quite satisfied that this is a balanced and accurate report, and has indeed been parallelled by other news sources quite independently (see Prime Minister gets apology and other links above).

Our report made it clear that the apology was over the phrase referring to "fat cats" and we quoted extensively from the Fiji Times newspaper's own two reports (page 3, Jan 18) as indicated in the sourcing and attribution. The Fiji Times' error was fundamental to the original front page story on Jan 17. We identified the Ministry of Information statement as such and stated that it was being quoted by the Fiji Times. What we published of the statement was in the context of the ongoing media controversy in Fiji.

Also, the Fiji Times' own website, maintained by Fiji Village, did not publish the denial by the Fiji government, or the paper's apology, in its Jan 18 online edition (as had been published in the print edition), even though the original "fat cats" report was published on line the previous day. An unfortunate omission.

# On January 30, Fiji's Sunday Post reported that Chaudhry was suing Fiji Times publisher Alan Robinson, editor Samisoni Kakaivalu and reporter Seema Sharma for alleged defamation over the "fat cats" story.

30 January 2000

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Fiji: Ousted P.M Appears In Court For Corruption.

DEPOSED Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase appeared in court last night charged with three counts of abuse of office and one count of failing to declare his interest when his family company bought shares into Fijians Holdings Ltd.

read more | digg story

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fiji Media Used As Mouth Piece.

INTERIM Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has cautioned people to be wary of what the local media reports.He warned the media not be "used" by well connected rich people who were charged with criminal offenses as they tendered to attack the prosecution and the courts in an attempt to obscure evidence.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yaqara Ownership-Half The Truth Is Often The Whole Lie.

In a follow up to the SiFM posts titled Fiji Water Carbon Trade-A Can of Worms and The Trouble With Native Land Administrators.

The ownership of Yaqara, is a question akin to a bad penny- one that keeps on turning up; much to the dismay of the Studio City project developers and Fiji Water owners.

The subject of ownership was covered in a Fiji Live article and the story of FICAC's involvement was first released by Fiji TV news.

The excerpt of the FL article:

Yaqara project faces another setback
20 FEB 2008

One of Fiji’s biggest projects, the Yaqara Studio City in Ra is facing another setback after some landowners claimed alleged irregularities regarding some land that the project will be constructed on.

Yesterday, some landowners handed the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) some documents relating to the multi-million dollar Yaqara project.

FICAC spokesperson Maraia Vavaitamana confirmed that they have received a complaint pertaining to the Yaqara Studio Project but would not reveal what the complaint is.

“We are in the process of assessing the complaint and the documents that were handed to us. We cannot give any specifics on the turnaround time of the complaint as we have other priority cases too which we are processing at the moment,” she said.

Yaqara Group Ltd (YGL) company secretary Thomasina Ah Ben says that the landowning unit is laying claims to a portion of the land in Yaqara (which is believed to cover not only the YGL land but also Fiji Water). She says it is an illegitimate claim and has been around for a while.

Fiji TV news yesterday reported that landowners have been told by FICAC inquiries will begin with two key institutions involved in the proposed project.

Ah Ben says she does not know what evidence they are pointing to, or what the corrupt act is all about. She says no one from FICAC has contacted them as yet. “We are pretty much in the blind as everyone else.”

Ah Ben says that a few years back the company had spoken to the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) regarding the land. She said NLTB did the research and wrote back saying that the claims are not legitimate.

Ah Ben admits that this latest development is not very good news for their project which YGL has been trying very hard to get off the ground for the past eight years or so.

YGL was hoping to finalise arrangements for investment in the project by overseas company Resort and Properties Ltd by March end. That would have given it the start it needed.

The first stage including residential and hotel development is estimated to cost almost $200m. It is as yet unclear how this latest development would affect the investment arrangement.

""Four years of waiting with no word from the NLC clearly states that politics is rife in that office. We have written to the interim Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama to look into the matter because that office needs a clean-up," "

The ownership question of Yaqara has been swept under the rug repeatedly by those who have abused their position, their authority and their people. It is hoped that the answer to that question will be finally answered and those who had concealed, obfuscated and profited by hiding those unalienable truths will be brought to account.

An earlier article posted on Fiji TV website describes the frustration of the landowners. The excerpt:

Claimant writes to interim PM to intervene in Yaqara land dispute
Fiji TV
3 Feb 2008 01:25:32

A claimant to the land in Yaqara has written to the interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to intervene and resolve ownership of the land.

The Native Land and Fisheries Commission had conducted an inquiry three years ago to determine who the rightful owner is but landowners say no decision has been relayed to them ever since. The issue of who is the rightful owner of the vast land in Yaqara has been debated for many years now.

The Crown Land which spreads more than 5000 acres and includes both the proposed Yaqara Studio City and Natural Water of Viti Limited's factory. There are three claimants to the land, the descendants of Bicilevu and villagers of Draniivi and Rabulu.

One of the claimants, Eseroma Tuibua says they are still awaiting a decision on an inquiry carried out to determine the rightful owners of the land. Tuibua has now written to interim Prime Minister to look into the issue.

[Tuibua] says the delay is frustrating, adding that if it's deliberate than those responsible should be taken to task. The Native Lands and Commission says no enquiry was held at Korovou in August 2004. In reply to our queries, the NLC says Yaqara is a crown freehold property and is owned by Mataqalis and Yavusas.

The are several major discrepancies, that confuse those following the Yaqara ownership. In the Feb. 3rd Fiji TV article, a unnamed official from Native Lands Commission (NLC) is quoted as saying that "Yaqara is crown freehold property and is owned by Mataqalis and Yavusas".

In a nutshell, Yaqara is native land which has been de-reserved and issued a 99 year native lease #27470 for 778 hectares and a 99 year crown lease #15734 for 1092 hectares.

However, the lease of native land becomes extremely murky when the leasee, subleases land and markets, sells these parcels as freehold property as seen in this website. It is mind boggling to fathom how the authorities have allowed native land under 99 year lease to be sub-leased as freehold property. Freehold is defined by as an estate which is held in fee or for life. This is the travesty of the century in Fiji, when those who preach about defending and protecting native land, are actually the master minds.

However there is a slight difference from Qarase as quoted in a Fiji Sun article (posted below):

Former Fijian Affairs Minister and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said the piece of land at Yaqara belonged to the State. "The NLC cannot verify who truly owns the Yaqara piece of land because it is State land at the moment. From what I know they have not verified who the true landowners are," said Mr Qarase.

Hansard for a Joint Sitting of Fiji Parliament on July 30th 2004
; document Question and Answers regarding the progress of Yaqara Studio City.

Studio City Project

(Question No. 71/2004)

HON. V. SINGH asked the Government, upon notice:

Would the honourable Minister for Commerce, Business Development and Investment inform the House as to what is the reason for the delay with the Studio City Project and when is the project expected to begin?

HON. T. VUETILOVONI (Minister for Commerce, Business Development and Investment).- Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise to respond to the question asked by the honourable Member.

I must say, Sir, I am just as interested in getting this project started as anyone else, and I have been asked similar questions at the Provincial Council meetings. Sir, I am pleased to reply to this question, although I must say, I would have understood if the question was posed by my kaivata, the honourable Member for Tavua Communal (A. Babla). But coming from the honourable Member for Vuda Open (V. Singh), my mind boggles, there must be something he is working at.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, this is a complex development project that belongs to Paradise Entertainment Limited. The Government has done its task in putting together fairways legislation, what we can call "building blocks" to enable this complex development project to go ahead.

Sir, if I may just go through the various things that Government has put together since the year 2000. In October 2000, we established the Fiji Audio Visual Commission.

In January 15th, 2001, Government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Paradise Entertainment, the NLTB and the Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited for the establishment of the Audio Visual Industry in Yaqara. In May 2001, we established the Audio Visual Tax Incentives as the fiscal framework for the Audio Visual Industry and the development of the Yaqara Studio City.

In December 2002 and March 2003, development leases over land at Yaqara were issued to Paradise Entertainment Limited by NLTB and the Department of Lands, for the establishment of the Studio City Zone. In June 2003, FTIB approved the Yaqara Studio City Stage I feasibility and business plan. On December 17th, 2003, we gazetted the Town Planning Order, creating Studio City Zone as a town planning area.

On 28th January, 2004, we gazetted the land covered by the leasehold area as the Yaqara Studio City Zone under the Taxation Act. In July 2004, we issued the foreshore lease, which is the final step in securing the leasehold area for the Yaqara Studio City development. These are the so‑called building blocks in the establishment of this quite complex development project and it has taken this time from October 2000 to July 2004.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, with the finalisation of these requirements now in place, Paradise Entertainment Limited has been able to move to the final master planning stage for the Yaqara Studio City. There is currently a team of staff (domestic and international consultants), working with the Department of Town and Country Planning in concluding, as quickly as possible, the master planning of this site.

It is the intention of Paradise Entertainment Limited that formal lodgement of the Master Plan with the Department of Town and Country Planning will occur by the end of September 2004, provided the lot's master plan meets the necessary requirements and can be approved expeditiously by Government. Paradise Entertainment Limited will commence site works at the Yaqara Studio City in the fourth quarter of 2004, Mr. Speaker, Sir. I hope that answers the question, but may I just add that the establishment of the Telecom Fiji Satellite Station at Yaqara Studio City also indicates that the first work to be done in this complex development was Telecom Fiji Satellite Station Yaqara, which will be opened in August and is the first of the anchor tenants of Paradise Entertainment.

HON. A. ALI.‑ Mr. Speaker, Sir, I do thank the honourable Minister for giving the progress development step by step. The question I would like to pose is; would the honourable Minister advise this House if there is any dispute among the mataqali landowning units who are claiming ownership of the land where the Studio City is to be situated?

HON. T. VUETILOVONI.‑ Mr. Speaker, Sir, I think we are all aware of the so‑called disputes, which are being highlighted in the press. Yes, there are claims being made but they have been handled through the normal channel and the process there has been established.

HON. P. MUPNAR.‑ A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker, Sir. As regards Paradise Entertainment Limited, who are the owners or the shareholders of that company, when that company was given contract, which other companies were considered and what was the reason for Paradise Entertainment being selected?

HON. T. VUETILOVONI.‑ Mr. Speaker, Sir, there are so many questions in that statement and I do consider that as a totally new question.

MR. SPEAKER.‑ I agree. I think we have covered this question sufficiently.

HON. K. DATT.‑ Mr. Speaker, Sir, if I can have your permission, this is a very straightforward and simple question.

MR. SPEAKER.‑ I think we have covered this question, unless you want to play a leading role in the film.


HON. K. DATT.‑ Thank you for giving me the lead in that question, Sir, but that was precisely the intention of the original questioner. What he really wanted to know is; when will the first film be made at Yaqara? That is the thrust of the question. Obviously, Mr. Speaker, Sir, there have been lots and lots of delays for all kinds of reasons and I often wondered whether the honourable Minister in the meantime had considered an alternative site in the beautiful mountainous and rolling lands of Vanua Levu, with blue azure seas and all kinds of settings for all kinds of acting. The question, Mr. Speaker, Sir, has the Minister considered an alternative on another island like Vanua Levu?

HON. T. VUETILOVONI.‑ Mr. Speaker, Sir, may I just put this development and the time it has taken in some sort of better perspective. I just want to remind honourable Members that it took nine years for the Novotel Hotel to really get started, the same time it is now taking us Natadola. So we are talking here about something that started in 2000 and we are talking about something actually starting by the end of this year, but I do take the honourable Member's point. We will certainly be looking North as part of our "Look North" policy and the development of Vanua Levu.

According to the excerpt of the Fiji Parliament hansard that quotes Tom Vuetilovoni, the MP from Ra (Fijian Provincial Seat). In December 2002 and March 2003, development leases over land at Yaqara were issued to Paradise Entertainment Limited by NLTB and the Department of Lands, for the establishment of the Studio City Zone.

In other words, the NLTB and Lands Department had colluded to de-reserve, lease native land for the Yaqara Studio City project without first consulting or seeking consent from the landowner(s).

NLTB's website
, describes the agenda on the bi-monthly Board of Directors meeting, held in Lautoka on 23rd Oct. 2003, months later, after the lease had been issued to Paradise Entertainment Ltd.

Item 4:
Yaqara Studio City Lease - The Board was informed that a recent meeting of the landowners of Nadokana (Rabulu) and Vatukaloko (Drauniivi) had agreed to support the developments following Native Land Trust Board's issuing of the lease. Whilst there are tracts of land where ownership was disputed, there appeared to be agreement to follow the dispute resolution mechanism that currently existed. This is important as the FNAVC was now looking at amendments to legislation to open up other areas for studio facilities.

These concerns have been validated by the complaints from the landowners which have falled on deaf ears. These complaints were quoted in a Radio NZ International article. The excerpt:

Fiji landowners oppose Studio City plan

Posted at 23:05 on 22 October, 2002 UTC

A group of indigenous landowners has threatened court action against the Fiji government and the Native Lands Trust Board over the site of the proposed 500-million US dollar Studio City.

The Daily Post quotes the landowners as saying they are the rightful owners of the land located at Yaqara in north eastern Viti Levu and they will go to court if it is not returned to them.

The spokesman, Noa Sakava, says finalising a lease with a foreign company without the knowledge of the rightful owners is a serious matter. Mr Sakava says the Native Land Trust Board is losing the trust of the Fijian people because it should sort out the ownership issue first before entering into any lease agreement with Paradise Entertainment Limited.

The company, which wants to develop the site for its Studio City project, has been forced to halt work because of the land dispute.

Mr Sakava says recent statements by Paradise Entertainment’s executive chairman, Philip Gerlach, that the company is losing business clearly shows that issues related to land disputes should be taken seriously.

Another interesting fact emerged from the research; while Paradise Entertainment Ltd. the Studio City developer was granted a 99 year old lease of Yaqara, among the listed leasors(according to the Annual reports of Yaqara Group-above image) were NLTB , Fiji Government and Yaqara Pastoral Company.
A recent news release regarding Yaqara Pastoral Company was published in a Fiji Live article. The excerpt of FL article:

YPCL leasing venture progressing
21 DEC 2007
Negotiation talks to lease out the State-owned Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited (YPCL) is still continuing with the two American-based joint venture companies, Rolls International and Harris Ranch, it was confirmed today.

YPCL, through the Ministry of Public Enterprise, had put forward its case to the two overseas companies and is awaiting a feedback. This proposed plan to lease out the company stemmed out from low returns generated from its core beef operations.

Company board director, Aca Lord says its beef operation was currently an “unprofitable venture”, and attributed it to the high expenditure incurred overriding its sales revenue.

“This is the prime reasons why we want to lease out YPCL to the two companies in order to derive the much needed capital, expertise and the state of the art technology to ultimately achieve optimum results for the industry,” Lord said.

It is expected that efforts to engage the two overseas companies given its level of expertise and resources will fast track the industry to greater heights. There are also immediate plans for repair works at the estate, maintaining cattle stock and further promotion of the local beef industry.

Lord made the statement while presenting YPCL’s dividend cheque of $385,018 to the shareholding minister Poseci Bune this morning. The amount reflects a 50 per cent increase from its dividend in 2005 totalling $245,122. Lord said the increase is a result of a hike in proceeds from Natural Waters of Fiji.

Bune acknowledged the company’s effort in continuously improving profits despite the current difficulties it is facing. He stressed the need to strive for higher production to meet the catering need of the local tourism market.

Bune said efforts to engage the two strategic partners who have the expertise and resources will fast track the industry to greater heights.

It may come of a surprise to learn that Rolls International, one of the two companies leasing Yaqara Pastoral Company under the convenience of developing a sustainable beef industry in Fiji; is the current owner of Fiji Water LLC.

Blog Solivakasama commenting on the recent debacle over the transfer pricing of Fiji Water; alluded that Fiji Water had in fact, made an offer to purchase outright the Yaqara Pastoral Company but was restricted by the powers that be.

It is no minor matter that, NLTB via its Directors (Dakuidreketi and Tabakanalagi et al) had no intention of determining who the native landowners of Yaqara were, let alone seeking their consent. The ownership question of Yaqara has been swept under the rug repeatedly by those who have abused their position, their authority and their people. It is hoped that the answer to that question will be finally answered and those who had concealed, obfuscated and profited by hiding those unalienable truths will be brought to account.

Dakuidreketi was later suspended from NLTB, as published in a Fiji Times article. The excerpt:

Dakuidreketi suspended

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

INTERIM Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau has suspended Native Lands Trust Board member Keni Dakuidreketi after the independant investigation team into Fijian institutions cited certain allegations against him.

In his letter dated June 25, Ratu Epeli wrote to Mr Dakuidreketi stating the allegations surfaced over his role and capacity as a member of the NLTB board, chairman and director of Viti Development Company Limited and director of Pacific Connex.

"In view of these rather unfortunate circumstances, it would not be prudent if you were to continue to sit on the board of NLTB," the letter stated.

"Therefore in the interest of the NLTB and as chairperson of the Fijian Affairs Board, I am suspending your FAB membership of the NLTB board pending the outcome of the investigations into these allegations."

Mr Dakuidreketi confirmed receiving the letter yesterday but described the wording as 'generic' as it talked about allegations. "They are citing certain allegations which I do not know therefore I cannot comment yet," he said.

"Anyway, I am meeting the minister tomorrow and hope to discuss the matter with him."

Mr Dakuidreketi said his position as chairman of VDCL was an appointment sanctioned by the NLTB board.

Both suspended general manager of the NLTB, Kalivati Bakani and IT manager Mojito Mua were handed their termination letters citing 'no cause' recently by Ratu Epeli last week.

The excerpt of the Fiji Sun article:

NLC in the dark on studio landowners
Fiji Sun.

Last updated 2/21/2008 7:24:26 AM

The Native Lands Commission cannot confirm the owners of the piece of land proposed for a multi-million dollar studio city. NLC deputy commissioner Isoa Nasedra said they were in the process of establishing who the landowners were.

"The NLC cannot confirm from its records the family believed to be the descendents of Bicilevu is the rightful owner of the piece of land in Yaqara," said Mr Nasedra.
He said they would meet members of the Raviravi clan, who were descendants of Bicilevu, after consultations with the Roko Tui Ra.

Acting Native Land Trust Board general manager Meli Benuci could not be reached for comment. However, NLTB officials said they had never distributed land rents or royalties to any of the Yaqara land claimants.

Former Fijian Affairs Minister and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said the piece of land at Yaqara belonged to the State. "The NLC cannot verify who truly owns the Yaqara piece of land because it is State land at the moment. From what I know they have not verified who the true landowners are," said Mr Qarase.

Raviravi landowning unit spokesman Eseroma Tuibua said the NLC was using delaying tactics to determine the landowner. "Four years of waiting with no word from the NLC clearly states that politics is rife in that office. We have written to the interim Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama to look into the matter because that office needs a clean-up," he said.

Although Yaqara Group's Secretary, Thomasina Ah Ben prematurely dismisses the claims of the landowners as illegitimate based on prior consultations with Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB). It must be pointed that, two representatives of NLTB (Dakuidreketi and Tabakanalagi) were actually Directors of the Yaqara Group during the time. Sadly, these improprieties has conveniently escaped the mind of Ah Ben for obvious reasons.

Ousted Prime Minister has contradicted his recent comments on the ownership of Yaqara and seems to have actually done what he accuses the Krishnamurthi report on doing- A Land Grab.
It is clear beyond reasonable doubt that the Yaqara native was de-reserved with out the consent of the landowners and Qarase was complicit in this dubious transaction.

Qarase's comments appear in a 2002 Radio NZ International article. The excerpt of RNZI article:

Ownership row in Fiji over Studio City land

Posted at 03:48 on 24 May, 2002 UTC

A row has developed in Fiji over the ownership of land which is to be the site of a proposed one billion US dollar Studio City. The land in question is at Yaqara in north western Viti Levu.

Answering questions in parliament, the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, said the land belongs to resident of Drauni-ivi village. Mr Qarase said the former state land was allocated to them [resident of Drauni-ivi] because they satisfied certain conditions laid down by the Native Land Trust Board. [Qarase] said the land did not belong to the Naboulou landowning unit of Tavua and they could take their claim to the court.

But a spokesman for the Naboulou landowners has attacked the government for fooling them and told the prime minister to check his facts. Noa Sakava says they have proof from the Native Lands Commission that the Studio Cityt land is theirs and will take the matter to court.

The billion dollar Studio City development will mean enormous financial returns to the landowners as well as jobs in a virtually undeveloped part of Fiji.

It is also a concern that these landowners have been disenfranchised by NLTB the institution that was supposed to defend their interests.

With the discussion of the De-reservation proposal still lingering in the minds of some; it may be a worthwhile to consider the proposal by local Academic regarding bringing landowners on board commercial arrangements according to a Fiji Live article. The excerpt of FL article:

Landowners should be co-investors: Ratuva
19 FEB 2008
A University of the South Pacific academic says that he would rather see a partnership arrangement where landowners themselves directly and actively participate in the commercial farming process with tenants as co-investors.

Dr Steven Ratuva says he would prefer this than having an ethnically divisive division of labour as suggested in the (controversial M Krishnamurthi) report.

Being co-investors would ensure that landowners learn the farming skills which they have been deprived of, says Dr Ratuva, the head of the Division of Sociology and Social Work, School of Social Science, Faculty of Arts and Law.

The Krishnamurthi report suggests the dereserving of all native lands; that instead of 4 hectare farms which are uneconomical, lots of 40 to 400 hectares be created and leased to one individual or company without affecting land ownership; that the ownership will continue to be vested in the title holder, and that all investments will be by the lessee and that the lease period to be a minimum of 75 years or more.

The report further recommended that the profits may be shared in a format acceptable to the landowner and cultivator, that is, the lessee may pay rentals, the landowner may undertake share farming, (the lessee will create infrastructure and cultivate cane); the owners will be employed by the lessee on fortnightly basis; and that the proceeds will be shared 30 : 60 after costs – 30 per cent to the owner.

But Dr Ratuva believes the landowners and tenants can become shareholders within a corporate type structure and the company needs to run professionally. He suggested that the ethanol plants which are expected to be built also need to be run along the same corporate partnership between landowners, tenants, government and other investors.

In this way, the benefits of the sugar industry are shared equitably and also it could help create good ethnic relations, he pointed out.

On the proposal to dereserve all native land which in the past few days has caused much alarm amongst landowners, Dr Ratuva pointed out that in the given political climate, just the mere mention of the term "dereservation" of native land is not a politically tactical thing to do.

“It was bound to provoke reaction.” He says there is enough native land available to be leased now without really touching the reserved land.

The suggestions for lease arrangements are not new at all in the sense that they merely reinforce the existing arrangements, he pointed out.

“For instance, Fijians provide the land and the tenants provide the capital and expertise.

“This is the same old colonial arrangement which has done very little to enhance Fijian commercial progress and improve ethnic relations,” he added.

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