10 July 2015: Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Bim
Note: The Motion was defeated in favour of the Government side with 17 Opposition Members voting in support of it, 26 Government Members opposing it, and 7 Members of Parliament not voting (absent at the time of the Vote). View the results of the Vote here.
Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Biman Prasad to review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper. Please check against delivery.
I rise to move the following Motion: – “That Parliament agrees that the Minister for Communication through Cabinet immediately review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper in conformity to Sections 17, 25, 26 & 32 of the Constitution”.
Madam Speaker, at the outset let me state that Government’s decision to exclusively advertise in The Fiji Sun violates Sections 17, 25, 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of all those employed at The Fiji Times and the people of Fiji.
These are the Right to Freedom of speech, expression and publication, Right to Access to Information (Section 25) Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation (Section 32). And I will explain why these rights are violated.
Madam Speaker, We strongly believe the rights of the Fiji Times as an organisation is violated, as it is locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry, which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution. Similarly the right of the people to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication, which primarily is freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas – under Section 17 of the Constitution.
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, 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 right to work, economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable. Madam Speaker, There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its reader’s information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, but mostly in the Fiji Sun.
Madam Speaker, Only recently we have seen a few advertisements on the campaign to change the flag, a lift-out on Government’s consultation for development of a 5 year and 20 year plan and vacancies of the Auditor-General and Fiji Corrections Service Commissioner.
Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sun. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance. This was confirmed in 2010 by the then Government’s spokesman, a senior military officer ,who said in January 2010 that since 2009 all advertisements must be in the Fiji Sun.
Madam Speaker, 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 s imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayer funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information breaches the rights of the people and the newspaper.
However Madam Speaker, even after the return to democracy following last September’s general elections, government continues its exclusivity policy in terms of advertising.
I have in possession a copy of an e-mail sent by the Department of Information to Media Liaison Officers of all Ministries and Departments. The urgent e-mail dated 18th November 2014 is self-explanatory and I quote: –
”As per Cabinet decision on Government Department and Ministries advertising with the Fiji Times, please note that only the Permanent Secretary for Information on the advice of the Minister has the authority to approve Government Departments and Ministries to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Further, the approval by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary can only be made once the requesting Departments or Ministries has advised on the necessity and importance for wanting to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Please bring this to the attention of your senior colleagues, in particular your Corporate Department”. – Unquote
Clearly Madam Speaker, the decision to exclude the Fiji Times is not a cost-based decision, as the e-mail shows. It is unacceptable to the readers of the Fiji Times, easily the largest newspaper in terms of circulation (and this newspaper is not distributed free unlike its competitor), and to the people of Fiji that they are excluded from Government information, vacancies, tenders and other important information.
Madam Speaker, another example of Government clearly favouring the Fiji Suneven while responding to opinions expressed through the letters to the Editor column in the Fiji Times following a news report in the newspaper about Draunibota Bay development and its potential hazards to the environment, printed in April, attracted a Government response, only through the Fiji Sun. And that too in a paid advertisement by the Permanent Secretary for Local Government, Housing and Environment.
Madam Speaker, we have compiled a list of some 60 government ministries, departments and statutory organisations whose advertisements appear almost on a daily basis in the Fiji Sun and comprehensively on Saturdays.
They are: – 1. Ministry of Lands 2. Ministry of Public Enterprise 3. Ministry of Tourism 4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs 5. Ministry of Justice 6. AG’s Chambers 7. Ministry of Energy 8. Ministry of Health 9. Ministry of Environment, Housing & Urban Dev. 10. Min for Women & Social Welfare 11. Min of Employment Productivity and Industrial Relations 12. Min of Education 13. Min of Defence National Security and Immigration 14. TLTB 15. Commerce Commission 16. Public Trustee of Fiji 17 Govt. Shipping Services 18. Govt. Statistician 19. Controller of Govt Supplies 20. Co-operatives Dept 21. MAFF 22. Fiji Military Forces 23. Dept. Information – Communication 24. Marine Dept 25. Min. of Trade & Industry 26. Min. of Finance 27. Min. of Labour 28. Min. of Education 29. Min of Local Government and Town and Country Planning 30. Water Authority of Fiji 31. Fiji Sugar Corporation 32. Airports Fiji Ltd 33. ATS Fiji Ltd 34. Fiji Hardwood Corp. 35. Fiji Museum 36. Fiji Ports Corp. 37. Fijian Property Trust Co. Ltd 38. Dept. of Legislature 39. Tropik Wood Industries Ltd. 40. Tourism Fiji 41. National Fire Authority 42. Housing Authority 43. Reserve Bank of Fiji 44. Post Fiji 45. Fiji Electricity Authority 46. FIRCA 47. Land Transport Authority 48. Prime Minister’s Office 49. Investments Fiji 50. Town Councils and Regional Authorities 51. Fiji Airways 52. Fiji Link 53. Legal Aid 54. President’s Office 55. Fiji Roads Authority 56. FNU 57. PSC 58. Technical College of Fiji 59. Dept. of Public Prosecution 60. Biosecurity of Fiji
Madam Speaker, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in its report on the petition not to re-zone Shirley Park (parliamentary paper 25 of 2015), discovered during its hearing that many people who appeared before the Committee were not aware of public announcements and advertisements on the issue. The Committee recommended that the responsible authorities must advertise notification of rezoning, objection periods, public consultations etc. through all available media outlets.
In the case of Lautoka’s Shirley Park, this was only advertised in the Fiji Sun. Even Parliament advertised the Standing Committee hearings in the Fiji Sun.
Madam Speaker, this blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice must cease.
If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far its newspaper advertising.
Madam Speaker, I commend this Motion to the House.