23 February 2015: Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

February 23, 2015

Media Release

Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

Government’s decision to grant Fiji Television 6 months operating license each time upon the expiry of the license as well as exclusively advertise in the The Fiji Sun violates Sections 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of those employed at Fiji TV and The Fiji Times.

These are the Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation. We strongly believe the rights of both the Fiji TV and the Fiji Times as organisations are also violated as both are locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution.

Exclusivity
Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17(a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas) and Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as the right to work and economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.

There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its readers information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sub. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance.

We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done. But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it is imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayers funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information is scandalous.

Fiji TV License
Similarly, Government’s policy to grant only 6 months operating license to Fiji Television raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice.

Again, there can be no justification by Government to grant Fiji TV an operating licence of 6 months only.

Last December was not the first time that the Board of Fiji TV was forced to unjustifiably remove their employees or transfer them based on a Government directive. In early 2010 two senior staff were transferred from the newsroom. In 2013, a veteran sports journalist was terminated even after providing a written apology to the Fiji Sports Council CEO.

Early last year another senior journalist who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago was asked to take leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license was going to be renewed for longer than 6 months. This did not happen.

Similarly last December the CEO and Head of Content of Fiji TV were sacked.

Fiji TV Board Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli’s public statement in the aftermath of the sacking as reported by the media said, “(Fiji TV) Board discussed changes in management to ensure Government starts giving Fiji TV licence to operate longer than 6 months. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries”.

Despite this, Fiji TV was once again issued a six-month license. On the other hand, FBC TV enjoys a long-term licence and rightly so.

A long-term license gives employees security of employment. It provides investors confidence and generates revenue through negotiation of long term advertising contracts. It also sends a very wrong signal to potential investors.

A 6-month licence is like living on borrowed time. It binds Fiji TV to the shackles of practising censorship in news coverage for the fear of their licence not being renewed. Government is therefore holding Fiji TV to ransom.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far as its newspaper advertising is concerned and also grants Fiji Television a long-term operating licence.