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“What if Fiji Sun were the victim?” (edited article in The Fiji Times, 18 July 2015).

18/07/2015

What if Fiji Sun were the victim? (edited article in The Fiji  Times, 18 July 2015).
Professor Wadan Narsey

Jyoti Pratibha, in an editorial in the Fiji Sun, (‘So what’s your real agenda, Prasad and Narsey’, 15 July 2015) mounts a vicious personal attack on Professor Biman Prasad for raising in parliament, the important policy issue of allocation of government advertising., and on Professor Wadan Narsey for elaborating some of the economic policy issues involved (‘To level the media playing field’, Fiji Times, 11 July 2015).

But imagine if the positions of Fiji Sun and Fiji Times were reversed and that the Fiji Government was ultra friendly with The Fiji Times and its owners.

What would Peter Lomas, Publisher and CEO of the Fiji Sun be saying today, were the Fiji Government to use taxpayers’ funds, to give 99% of its print advertising to The Fiji Times, probably worth more than extra $5 million dollars per year?

Lomas would be saying exactly the same things that Professor Biman Prasad said in Parliament, and that I, as an economist, said in my article of 11 July, and would also say in support of Fiji Sun.

I would be saying that the Fiji Government, which is not a privately owned company but a public organization spending tax-payers’ funds should:

(1) treat the Fiji Sun and Fiji Times, equally;

(2) ensure that their advertisements reached the readers of the Fiji Sun to the same extent as readers of the Fiji Times;

(3) treat the owners of the two papers, both tax-payers, equally;

(4) and not make the employees of the Fiji Sun feel that their jobs and incomes were threatened because the Government liked the Fiji Times editorial policy and gave them all the advertising.

Publisher of Fiji Sun, Peter Lomas would be pleading with the Fiji Government “we are not asking for special treatment. Just treat us equally. If the Fiji Times does better because the readers prefer it, for whatever reasons, then I accept the commercial reality of market forces”.

But no.

Instead, Mr Peter Lomas authorized an editorial signed by his journalist Jyoti Pratibha, totally ignoring the substance of the four arguments above, while delivering a childish tirade against Professor Biman Prasad and Professor Wadan Narsey titled: “So what is your real agenda, Prasad and Narsey”?

I explain ‘my real agenda’ here.

The Narsey agenda

As a taxpayer since 1972 and a citizen of Fiji, I have a right to question how taxpayers’ funds are spent.

I have the right to question any government bias in the use of tax payers’ funds, such as placing advertisements with only one newspaper, which is not as well read as another.

I have previously also served the country as Shadow Minister of Finance in Parliament, questioning the Rabuka Government’s use of tax-payer funds.

I am also an economist who all my working life has considered it a primary duty to impart my economics knowledge and understanding to the Fiji public, in simple to understand English and not jargon, fully accepting that some people and other economists may disagree with my views.

But such disagreements are good for the public as they can then see the issues from different points of view.

As an economist, I was not asking for special treatment for the Fiji Times, but equal treatment.

I would similarly criticize any Fiji Government if it were to have biases and use only one supplier of medicines, or structural steel, or engineering services, or mobile phone services, while ignoring all other competing, cost effective, and reliable suppliers.

I am also on public record as being critical of some economic policies of the governments of Ratu Mara, Rabuka, Chaudhry, and Qarase as well, not just of the Bainimarama Government, where I disagree with their policies.

This was even recognized by the Fiji Military Forces hierarchy, and their Commander then, Voreqe Bainimarama, for whom I lectured at their Officer Training Courses, before 2006.

That is my only agenda, as I am sure most readers of the Fiji Sun also know, whatever Jyoti Pratibha might insinuate in her recent editorial.

The Fiji Sun and Ms. Pratibha have also previously insinuated that my critical writings were in preparation of my being a candidate in the 2014 elections.

If Opposition parties are able to use my critical writings and views, well and good, since every government benefits by having a strong opposition.

Civil servants, and I suspect some Government ministers, also use my research, writings, and recommendations for public policy.

“Where were you”, asks Pratibha?

Pratibha, childishly asks me “where were you when the Daily Post was struggling to survive”.

For her information, in 1998 (when I suspect Ms Pratibha was still in school), I wrote a series of articles in the Daily Post, based on a formal presentation to a government planning committee on nutrition, on how free markets were worsening nutrition in Fiji, and what government needed to do to counter the trend.

Readers can search on my website (NarseyOnFiji) using the search word “Daily Post” and the following articles will come up:

“The Big Macs are coming: nutritional regression in free markets” (Daily Post, 29 Oct. 1998)

“Coke versus coconut: is it a no contest” (Daily Post, 4 Nov. 1998)

“The advertising war: sex and more sex” (Daily Post, 12 Nov. 1998)

“Our market mess: can we do better” (Daily Post, 16 Nov. 1998).

These articles, still of great relevance today, were published by the editors of Daily Post, presumably because they added to the educative quality of the paper.

My agenda then, was the same as my agenda today with my writing for the Fiji Times: to enlighten the public on current and important economic political and social issues, so that they would be more knowledgeable and responsible citizens.

The public, the publisher and the editor of the Fiji Times, are the best judges of that, not a journalist for a competing propagandist newspaper.

The Fiji Sun and Pratibha insults

It is sad, and a symptom of our times, that the local CJ Patel family who own the Fiji Sun allows publisher Peter Lomas and Jyoti Pratibha (a BA graduate) to deliberately and gratuitously insult Professor Biman Prasad and Professor Wadan Narsey.

Peter Lomas and Jyoti Pratibha well know that Biman Prasad has a PhD in economics from a reputable Australian University and has earned the right to be referred to as Dr Prasad, just as I have earned the right to the title of Dr.

Professor Prasad is also an elected Member of Parliament, entrusted by the Leader of the Opposition (the Hon Ro Temumu Kepa) with delivering the Opposition’s Budget Reply, and holding the critical position of Chairman of Public Accounts Committee, charged with monitoring the use of tax payers’ funds by Government.

While Professor Prasad and I have left USP, we both have positions of ‘Adjunct Professor’ at more than one reputable Australian university.

He has every right, and the Fiji Sun has a duty to refer to him as Hon Dr Biman Prasad, or Hon Professor Prasad.

For the Fiji Sun and Jyoti Pratibha to refer to him as “Prasad” or “Mr. Prasad” is a despicable attempt to publicly belittle his academic accomplishments and titles, and him personally.

This is of course nothing new for the Fiji Sun and Jyoti Pratibha, who have frequently referred, equally contemptuously, to the Hon Ro Temumu Kepa, the Leader of the Opposition and a traditional high chief of indigenous Fijians as “Temumu”.

But of course, the Fiji Sun and Jyoti Pratibha are merely repeating the childish, arrogant and disgraceful behavior of many unqualified Fiji First Party representatives in the parliamentary debates, all recorded for posterity.

Pratibha also uses contemptuous phrases to describe the two professors such as “of his ilk,” “holier than thou attitude,” lack of “corporate social responsibility,” “who speaks for the sake of speaking” and “self-serving”, and many other insulting phrases these last few years.

Both of these professors have been teaching university students for decades, and their graduates are working in the highest places in the civil service, banks, reserve banks, universities, and the private sector, as well as abroad.

In addition to their core responsibility of teaching, both these professors as a genuine reflection of their social responsibility, have been educating the general public through their writings, consultancies and research, all available for the public to assess (mine can be downloaded for free, from this website NarseyOnFiji, and will soon be available as book resources for the public and students, including journalists).

Both these professor also answered the calls of their communities to serve them in parliament, resigning well-paid jobs and security at USP.

What exactly has Jyoti Pratibha contributed as a journalist that justifies her contempt for the two senior professors?

While some may know of a recent less than complimentary assessment of Pratibha by the Chairman of MIDA, it would be interesting (not necessarily useful) for young aspiring journalists to put together a collection of Jyoti Pratibha’s writings in the Fiji Sun and assess her total contribution to journalism using sound journalism principles.

The ‘good’ news

Already suffering from the government bias in advertisements, The Fiji Times may find it a trifle burdensome to deliver their newspaper for free or subsidized prices to rural areas and schools, as the Fiji Sun claims to do as part of their ‘corporate social responsibility’.

While giving away free newspapers is easy if you have five million dollars extra revenue a year, I suspect that most readers would struggle to understand what ‘education role” is played by the Fiji Sun and what their ‘real agenda” is.

But the owners of the Fiji Times, its publisher, editor, and the journalists can take some comfort from Jyoti Pratibha’s glowing concession that “the Fiji Times is doing rather nicely, thank you, under its current more than capable management”, and that despite the financial constraints of not receiving five million dollars of government advertising.

In contrast, the “commercial reality” for the Fiji Sun, as Jyoti Pratibha practically admits in her editorial, is that the Fiji Sun can only ‘compete and offer diverse views’ because her employer annually receives five million dollars of tax-payers’ funds in advertising, which the Fiji Times is denied for political and not commercial reasons.

The Fiji Government may as well stop the pretense, buy the assets of the Fiji Sun, and the taxpayers can at least enjoy the benefits of some profits.

Post-script: for the owners of Fiji Sun

While this article is critical of the publisher of the Fiji Sun (Peter Lomas) and one of its journalists (Jyoti Pratibha), we must not forget that the ‘buck stops’ literally and metaphorically, with its owners, the CJ Patel family, who are out of sight and out of mind in all this media debate.

Not too long ago, the Bainimarama Government forced a foreign owner of The Fiji Times to divest his shares to a local owner, on the allegation that foreign ownership and control was not in the public interest.

But it is abundantly clear now that local ownership, with many commercial conflicts of interest, can clearly be much worse, and paid employees (like publishers and journalists) cannot be expected ‘to bite the hand that feeds them’.

In Fiji, owners of businesses, even if they are running excellent enterprises offering quality products at affordable prices, are quite often attacked by the public, especially if they happen to be of one ethnicity, and often purely out of envy of the wealthy.

But some business owners can be totally unethical in order to make more than fair profits, at consumers’ and taxpayers’ expense.  In some African countries (and the Pacific as well), there have been tragic indiscriminate violence against ethnically targeted businesses.

Of course, media owners also have to make profits and that is what they are there for, but media ownership comes with a sacred wider social responsibility of helping to responsibly form public opinion.

Read this for an earlier take on my assessment of the Fiji media (and you could also apply these criteria to the publisher and journalists of the Fiji Sun):
https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/fiji-media-moguls-squashing-media-independence-7-feb-2013/

Media owners cannot neglect the most important function of a good media, that of being an independent watch-dog on the government of the day, especially in relation to the disposition of tax-payers’ funds.

The commercially powerful CJ Patel family owns the Fiji Sun, which preferentially receives taxpayer funds, devotes itself to publicizing government propaganda, largely ignores its watchdog function even where large amounts of taxpayer funds are being abused, while viciously and relentlessly attacking those who, in the public interest, call for good governance and accountability of the government.

It will be utterly sad if this is all that the CJ Patel family is eventually remembered for, in the history of Fiji businesses and Fiji media.

 

 

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