6 April 1998
Senate committee warns media of parliamentary privilege sanctions
(PINA/IFEX) - According to a report issued by the Senate's privileges
committee, "The Fiji Times", the country's largest newspaper, breached
parliamentary privilege in reporting and editorializing on a short meeting
of the country's Senate. Though the committee recommended that no formal
charges be laid, it warned that, if faced with articles breaching
parliamentary privilege in the future, it would "not hesitate to impose
sanctions that will have severe repercussions." The committee's report was
tabled on 6 April 1998 for the consideration of the full Senate. The
committee recommends that representatives of the paper be called before the
Senate to be told the decision.
***Updates IFEX alerts dated 6 October 1997 and 8 October 1997***
On 30 September 1997, "The Fiji Times", in an article headed "House sits for
20 minutes", reported on the Senate meeting. An editorial included in the
same issue entitled "Practice What You Preach" noted that the financial
inefficiency of the 20-minute sitting was not in line with the Senate's
message to others to cut costs and improve efficiency. In response to the
editorial, senators stated that the meeting had been an informal one held
after their adjournment that day. The Senate committee itself indicated that
the paper's headline was not factually correct since the meeting had only
lasted 15 minutes. It further pointed out that the allowances paid to 19
senators that day totaled $F2280 and not $F2400, as reported in the
editorial. In addition to this, the committee isolated the following
statement printed in the 30 September issue which it characterized as a
derogatory and libelous attack on the Senate and its members: "they cannot
expect anyone to take a serious view of their bluster on cost cutting and
the need for improved productivity while they continue to squander other
people's money while piously calling for efficiency."
Under Fiji's Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act those found guilty of
breaching parliamentary privilege can be jailed for up to two years.
On 6 December 1996, the House of Representatives privileges committee ruled
that a prima facie example of breach of parliamentary privilege had been
established following The Fiji Times" publication of details of in camera
meetings of parliamentary sub-committees responsible for reviewing the
country's constitution. Thus far, no other such rulings have been made.
PINA has expressed concern over such efforts to silence the Fiji media for
providing the public information on matters of public interest.