Friday, October 8, 2010

Charting a new course for the Fiji Times

Full text of Fiji Broadcasting Corporation news director Stanley Simpson's interview with new Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead on 6 October 2010:

What is the new direction, if any, that the Fiji Times will be taking?

I want to add to the quality product we already have. This will range across all the various features that good newspapers offer. We have excellent world-wide editorial service suppliers but most of all we have a strong, professional editorial department, a department which like most others here at The Fiji Times has really been fearful of their newspaper’s survival.

As everyone knows, Mahendra Patel at Motibhai saved the day. I mention him not for a free plug but to tell you what many people do not know: he has been a board member of the Fiji Times for about 34 years. He knows enough about newspaper ethics and policies to leave new directions to the publisher - me - and I am grateful for that.

The key question everyone asks but, if they stop to think about it, everyone knows the answer to, is your question: new directions?

Yes, we are changing direction. Having watched News Ltd perish in this country, there’s no sense in committing suicide, even with a locally-owned replacement. There is no doubt that The Fiji Times cannot be antagonistic to the government, What on earth does it prove? But we will ask questions in a fair and balanced way because we will be helping to bring the people to the government.

Did Netani Rika resign because he would not go with the new direction you have set for the Fiji Times?

In a word, yes. To his eternal credit, he, in his own words “sacrificed his job” for the Fiji Times. We had several long, constructive and sensitive sessions and the ending was pretty sad for both of us. He’s like the rest of us – we are proud to be employed and we have families to look after. In time, as Fiji finds its way, he will play his part in its history because he is an intelligent and thoughtful person.

I understand you have had a meeting with the Permanent Secretary for Information [Sharon Smith-Johns] – How did the meeting go?

The meeting went well. I presented my credentials, which if I may say so, are pretty good; I said my piece and the permanent secretary said hers. I certainly understood that she was delivering the government’s line and in my short time here I already chosen to support that line. Why? Because most respected people here have spoken to me about infrastructure finally taking shape; about one nation one people, about equality from coast to coast. If you like, you can be cynical about it, but from where I stand – and I first made up my mind about this in 1979 as I left after four years in the chair at the times - the two main communities have to learn to live together EQUALLY, with equal opportunity and equal hard work.

The Fiji Sun is posing a strong challenge – how do you see the competition with the Sun?

Well, when I was last here [PMC editor: The previous Fiji Sun at the time of the 1987 Rabuka coups - no connection to the current newspaper] eventually wobbled to a stop. Now it’s going again and because of a most unequal playing field it is doing better than it might otherwise do. I’m not prepared to comment on its content or its quality.

How confident are you of pulling back government advertising to the Fiji Times?

This will depend on us proving to the people, and thus to the government that we are a newspaper with a good, strong heart and a love for Fiji. We have to help people understand that there some highly-educated soldiers walking on this path set by their leader and, given that education, they will all yearn for democratic elections when the time comes. It is, I believe, inevitable and exciting.

Pictured: New Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead. Photo: Fiji Times

Stanley Simpson's report on FBCNews

On Pacific Scoop

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