Approximately two years ago, the Fiji Times reprinted a story from New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times in which a soccer official questioned the ethical soundness of Fiji’s judiciary. The military dictator who runs Fiji as his personal fiefdom did not take kindly to such an insinuation, even though even a casual observer of the island nation can recognize the criticism as true. And so the Fiji Times now finds itself in a sticky legal situation, having been found guilty of contempt of court and fined the equivalent of $170,000. The newspaper was compelled to cover its own punishment, which it did so in the gentlest terms possible:
In 2011, Tai Nicholas made comments to a reporter of the New Zealand-based Sunday Star Times responding to questions on former Fiji Football Association president Dr Muhammed Shamsud-Dean Sahu Khan’s official position in the OFC and FIFA (International Federation of Football Association).
The Sunday Star Times article that contained Mr Nicholas’s comments was published verbatim in this newspaper the following day.
Those comments, according to an affidavit filed by the Attorney-General’s office in November 2011, were said to “scandalise the court and the judiciary of Fiji in that they were a scurrilous attack on the members of the judiciary, thereby lowering the authority of the judiciary and the court”.
In his judgment, Justice Calanchini said this was a case of contempt of court which should be punished by a penalty that reflects the public interest, acts as a deterrent and appropriately denounces the conduct of the respondents.
Whether the tiny Fiji Times can continue to operate with such a judgment hanging over its head is anyone’s guess. I am certain that the powers-that-be in Fiji would prefer that it shut down. Those at the helm of the newspaper must decide not only whether they can survive financially, but whether they wish to risk further harassment. The fact that they are faced with such a difficult choice bodes incredibly ill for Fiji’s future.