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“Fiji TV terminations, accountability of the Boards and People’s Actions” (13 January 2015)

13/01/2015

Fiji TV terminations, accountability of the Boards and People’s Actions
Professor Wadan Narsey (13 January 2015)

In the last few weeks, the media have provided extensive coverage of the termination of two Fiji Television Ltd senior executives — chief executive Tevita Gonelevu and head of content Tanya Waqanika and the public needs answers from many quarters.

The Chair of the Board of Fijian Holdings Ltd and Fiji TV Director  Ioane Naiveli said  the decision was made after a board meeting, because of the need to “restructure” the company.

The word “restructure” was really a red herring, since the Fiji Times article (17 December 2014) had also quoted Naiveli as saying:

 “Fiji TV’s licence expires at the end of the year and now we can go to Government and say we have made changes to management and, hopefully, get longer term licences. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries.”

 Naiveli stated that the continuing six-month contract renewals made it harder for the company to get long-term advertisement deals and the decision to remove the two was a business decision to ensure the survival of Fiji TV.

It would seem that Naiveli and the Fiji TV Board were under the impression that if they terminated the two executives, the Minister for Communications would give them a normal renewal of license, and hence Fiji TV board assured stakeholders and shareholders that the company would continue to operate as usual.

They miscalculated. The Fiji TV license was again extended for only six months at the end of December 2014.

Fiji TV is entitled to fair treatment from Government, in order that there is fair competition between the two major television stations which is some guarantee of a better choice and quality of programs.

Therefore, not only the shareholders of Fiji TV, but the Fiji public also have a right and responsibility to call for a better explanation from the Fiji TV and Fijian Holdings Limited Board, the Minister for Communications and Fiji Government and the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) Chairman Ashwin Raj.

The two dismissed Fiji TV executives are surely also entitled to natural justice from their employer, a matter that ought to be of concern to the Fiji Employers Federation, trade unions and the Minister of Labour.

The willingness of the Fiji Government to break the sanctity of business contracts, as they have done many times previously without challenge, ought to draw comments from the Fiji Law Society, the Fiji Chamber of Commerce, and the entire business community.

Why the termination?

Naiveli said the employee contracts of Gonelevu and Waqanika allowed the board to terminate these senior executives without giving a reason.

This may be correct legally, but the evidence clearly indicates that the two executives have been denied natural justice, not for any wrong doing or inefficiency or any other acceptable reason for dismissal of employees, but for apparently dutifully fulfilling their responsibilities to their employer and shareholders of Fiji TV.

The two executives were apparently trying to protect the financial interests of their employer Fiji TV which had won an exclusive contract with World Rugby to show the Rugby Sevens live through their channels.

It is relevant that the Minister for Communications, Mr Aiyaz Khaiyum, has been locked in battle with World Rugby to allow their Television Cross-Carriage Decree to force Fiji TV to share their Rugby Sevens feed with Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, headed by Mr Riyaz Khaiyum, the brother of the Minister.

The unpleasant details of this messy battle may be read in the  many documents which have been published by Fijileaks, thoroughly undermining the Minister’s justification for his actions to the media and more seriously, to the Fiji Parliament.

http://www.fijileaks.com/home/aiyaz-khaiyum-interfered-with-fiji-tv-over-rugby-deal-nouzab-fareeds-e-mails-proof-of-evidence-khaiyum-demanded-fhl-directors-to-sign-letter-or-resign-from-fiji-tv-by-3pm\

OR watch the video clips here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shazzer-for-Freedom-in-Fiji/315271491906439

At heart is an issue that ought to be of great concern to Fiji’s Chamber of Commerce and the entire business community: namely, Government’s willingness to interfere and negate legitimate contracts between World Rugby and Fiji TV (and other contracts well known publicly).

Essentially, the two Executives of Fiji TV lost their jobs, because they were insisting on Fiji TV’s contractual legal right to control the rugby feed negotiated with World Rugby, and not be forced by the Fiji Government to share it with FBC on terms dictated by the Fiji Government.

The lack of board accountability

The controlling shareholder of Fijian Holdings Ltd and hence of Fiji TV is the iTaukei Affairs Ministry i.e. the Fiji Government, collectively representing the taxpayers of Fiji.

The whole saga raises fundamental questions about the accountability of the boards of Fiji Television Ltd. and Fijian Holdings Limited to their shareholders and the taxpayers of Fiji, on whose behalf the Fiji Government and the iTaukei Affairs Board are supposed to operate.

At a very superficial level, Naiveli may be correct in saying that he and/or the Board was trying to protect the interest of Fiji TV by trying to get a normal renewal of their license beyond the six monthly period they had been getting since June 2012, and they thought that the dismissal of the two Fiji TV executives would ensure “normal operations” thereafter.

BUT the far more principled position ought to have been for Naiveli and the Fiji TV and FHL Boards to publicly protest that they were being denied the normal license renewal in the first place, from as far back as June 2012, a condition not imposed on competitor FBC TV.

Moreover, the Minister for Communication had no right whatsoever to insist, as alleged by the two dismissed executives and implied by Naiveli’s explanation, that a necessary pre-requisite for a normal renewal was the dismissal of the two executives for clearly unjustifiable reasons.

One of the sacked Fiji TV executives (Waqanika) correctly and justifiably pointed out the conflict of interest for Aiyaz Khaiyum as the Minister of Communications making the decision on the six monthly license for Fiji TV, with being the originator of the Television Cross-Carriage Decree, and being the brother of the CEO Riyaz Khaiyum of Fiji TV’s competitor, FBC.

The Fiji Times (8 Jan. 2015) reported that

“dismissed Fiji TV executives Tevita Gonelevu and Tanya Waqanika are calling for a commission of inquiry into the conduct of Fiji TV chair Ioane Naiveli, FHL CEO Nouzab Fareed and/or the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Finance, Public Enterprises and Public Service Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum”.

 But there are many other important issues which must also be inquired into.

Broader questions for the Fiji Public and professional organisations

The termination of the two Fiji TV executives raises far more questions that are at the heart of a just and well-governed society and economy:

(a) Why is the Bainimarama Government insisting through their Television Cross-Carriage Decree, that all the Fiji television channels must screen rugby sevens games, for two continuous days several times a year, at the expense of all normal programs. What a ridiculous imposition of content value on national television stations, justified by the Minister of Communication as one of “principle”?

Why not apply the same principle to programs on computing, or rural development, or science or National Geographic, all of far greater importance to our people’s development than rugby games.  Why is the Consumer Council of Fiji quiet on this matter?

(b) Given that the sanctity of business contracts is at the heart of business agreements, why are the Chambers of Commerce, the Fiji Law Society and the entire business community not protesting at the willingness of Aiyaz Khaiyum (with all his ministerial positions) to interfere with the sanctity of the contract that Fiji TV had with World Rugby.

Indeed why did they not protest when the Government similarly broke the contract that  small struggling Mai TV had with FIFA for the screening of the FIFA World Cup games?

(c) Why has the Chairman of MIDA not protested to the Minister for Communications at the clearly unjust and unfair limited renewal of Fiji TV’s license for six months only, placing it at a serious disadvantage with respect to its competitor Fiji Broadcasting Corporation TV, as he is required to by the MIDA Decree?

Why has the Chairman of MIDA not protested at the many other biases in favour of FBC TV, nor about the dismissal of the two Fiji TV executives?

Why does the MIDA Chairman refuse to respond to the several formal complaints that I have registered with him personally, including the dismissal of other Fiji TV staff previously:

https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/is-mida-an-oxymoron-letter-to-mida-chairman-and-media-editors-21-dec-2014/

(d) With Naiveli telling the public that his Board can terminate the two Fiji TV executives “without giving them a reason”, why are the Ministry of Labour, Fiji Employers’ Federation, and the trade unions not protesting, given that it is their responsibility to protect the legitimate rights of employees, at all levels, and no one should be terminated by their employer “without reason” least of all by a company whose ultimate controlling shareholder should be the iTaukei Board, representing the tax payers of Fiji.

(e) Even if the South Pacific Stock Exchange chooses to keep quiet about the Fiji TV saga, students of business, accounting and economics at our universities should have a close look at the recent financial performance of Fiji TV, easily available here:  http://fijione.tv/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Fiji-TV-2014-Report-240914.pdf

This is an amazing company whose performance since the year 2000 would teach budding entrepreneurs many lessons about fighting battles to survive in in a tough business environment plagued by coups and capricious government ministers, expanding regionally (where it is now making more profits than in Fiji), while being an extremely responsible corporate citizen serving many sports and social bodies in Fiji.

The students will not have to dig around too much for data, as it is there in the annual reports, all available on the web, in contrast to their heavily subsidized competitor Fiji Broadcasting Corporation which is ironically fully owned by taxpayers.

With respect to Fiji TV, why is it that the “Net Profit After Tax” increased from $2.2 million in 2011 to $4.2 million in 2012 and then declined to a loss of -$1.5 million in 2014?

Why did “Earnings per Share” decline from 0.41 to -0.15 and “Returns on Equity” decline from 19% to -6%.

To what extent has Government unfairness to Fiji TV and bias towards FBC TV been responsible for this massive financial turn-around for a critical media company?

(f) Why have all the powerful Board Members (the major ones are all listed in the Annual Reports, and include Hari Punja) not protested publicly about the government’s actions, which are clearly harming their financial interests?

(g) The public need to provide visible support to the Opposition Members of Parliament who are raising questions on the issue and who will eventually and inevitably become demoralized if the public does not do their part.

(h) The public also need to ask their elected Members of Parliament who are on the Government side to address the questions raised above and I am sure that many of them are just as concerned as the Opposition  MPs.

(i) But ultimately, the buck stops with the Prime Minister of Fiji (Voreqe Bainimarama) who appointed Aiyaz Khaiyum as not only the Minister for Communication, but also the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Finance, Public Enterprises and Public Service.

In this Fiji TV saga, there are several, severe and clear conflicts of interest between all these ministerial positions and the interfering actions which have been taken by the Minister of Communications.

It would take a book to document all these conflicts of interest which no professional and accountable Prime Minister should tolerate in the allocation of his Cabinet positions.  Why he does so may seem a mystery, but the revelations in the Auditor General Reports for 2010 to 2013 suggest some clues.

It is a wonder that Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama continues to remain totally quiet while his government’s reputation and his personally, are shredded by these continuing public sagas.

People’s action

As I have suggested previously in the Ganesh Chand case, the public must ignore the personalities, and look at the broader governance issues involved.

Fiji TV executives Tanya Waqanika and Tevita Gonelevu are real heroes who are standing up and publicizing the injustice being done against them by the Minister for Communication, the Board of Fiji TV, and the Chair of Fijian Holdings Ltd.

These are the kinds of heroes which Fiji needs if it is to be returned to any semblance of a decent and just society, and an accountable transparent government.

But Tanya Waqanika and Tevita Gonelevu need the support of all the professional organizations, some of which I have listed above, as well the support of concerned citizens writing responsibly and under their own names, to the media.

If we do not raise our voices then the sacrifice and pain that Tanya and Tevita are going through will be in vain, and these will be just another two names to add to the many that have suffered since 2006, and quietly moved on with their lives, while the mess continues.

 

 

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