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Times fined $300,000

Nanise Loanakadavu
Thursday, February 21, 2013

FIJI Times Limited has been ordered to pay a fine of $300,000 for contempt of court.

High Court judge Justice William Calanchini ordered the company to pay a fine $200,000 less than the $500,000 sought by the Attorney-General's office.

The court convicted The Fiji Times' former publisher Brian O'Flaherty and fined him $10,000.

The court also sentenced editor-in-chief, Fred Wesley, to six months imprisonment suspended for two years.

Fiji Times Limited, Mr O'Flaherty and Mr Wesley were also ordered to pay $2000 each to the Attorney-General's Office as costs of the application.

Justice Calanchini yesterday ordered that the $300,000 fine be paid to the High Court in Suva within 28 days.

He also ordered The Fiji Times and Mr Wesley to arrange for an apology directed to the judiciary of Fiji to be first drafted and submitted to the court for approval prior to being published in The Fiji Times within the next 28 days.

In 2011, Tai Nicholas made comments to a reporter of the New Zealand-based Sunday Star Times responding to questions on former Fiji Football Association president Dr Muhammed Shamsud-Dean Sahu Khan's official position in the OFC and FIFA (International Federation of Football Association).

The Sunday Star Times article that contained Mr Nicholas's comments was published verbatim in this newspaper the following day.

Those comments, according to an affidavit filed by the Attorney-General's office in November 2011, were said to "scandalise the court and the judiciary of Fiji in that they were a scurrilous attack on the members of the judiciary, thereby lowering the authority of the judiciary and the court".

In his judgment, Justice Calanchini said this was a case of contempt of court which should be punished by a penalty that reflects the public interest, acts as a deterrent and appropriately denounces the conduct of the respondents.

"This is not a case where the mere ordeal of court proceedings and an offer to pay costs with an apology is sufficient," Justice Calanchini said.

He said such an approach would suggest that the court does not take seriously the role of safeguarding the community from scurrilous attacks on its judiciary amounting to contempt scandalising the court.

Justice Calanchini said contempt of court was serious as a matter of principle because it was directed towards the whole judiciary of Fiji and the court at a time of Fiji's on-going constitutional development.

He said as a matter of principle the publication scandalises the entire judiciary and the court in so far as there was a real risk that the effect of the publication would be to undermine the authority of the court and discourage citizens from relying on the judiciary to settle their disputes.

"The publication represents a real risk to the effective administration of justice in Fiji," he added.