"WE stand by our reporter."
Those were the words of The Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley regarding The Fiji Times front page article "Girl Cargo" published on Friday, October 5.
The article attracted criticism from the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji which claimed the information published in the report was inaccurate and falsified.
But Wesley said the fact remained a meeting had taken place between the reporter and an MSAF official during which the comments in the report were obtained.
"We can confirm our reporter did speak to the MSAF official and he made statements that we ran on the front page," Wesley said.
"In terms of the story, our reporter is steadfast and firmly stands by the story and by whatever she's written, and as a newspaper we stand by our reporter.
"We didn't try to clear the air earlier because we had to give the benefit of the doubt to our reporter first as a responsible organisation and review the story and scenarios offered by the police statement."
He said the newspaper conducted an internal investigation into the matter. It also ran the police statement and a statement from the navy.
MSAF released a statement saying the reporter had apologised and promised a retraction of the story after a meeting.
"Any retraction will have to come from her superiors and this MSAF meeting didn't include any of our reporter's superiors," he said.
Wesley said the reporter's apology was for associating Malake Island with the case of the missing sisters of Naria and not for the story in its entirety.
"It is important to realise that an interview did take place and over the course of this interview an MSAF official made comments.
"And our reporter, like any other good reporter, noted down the comments, took them on record and reported what was told to her and that was what we published."
Wesley said there was no sinister motive behind the report and there was no intention to bring Malake Island into disrepute.
The Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts said some media organisations were doing very little to develop such stories themselves.
"It is unfortunate that some media organisations have attacked The Fiji Times for the credibility that we stand for.
"The Fiji Times stands behind the story and its reporter," Mr Arts said.
"Human trafficking is a worldwide concern as highlighted by many international organisations. The Fiji Times is responsible in raising that this may well be an issue in the Pacific."
Clarification - By: Ioane Burese
AN article titled 'Villagers eye 10K harvest' that published in the Fiji Times on September 19 said the villagers harvested their first yield, which was estimated to rake in $10,000. The yield was in fact estimated at $1500. The error is regretted.