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Arts Exercises Right to Remain Silent

Arts Exercises Right to Remain Silent
FROM LEFT: Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula , The Fiji Times Publisher Hank Arts , Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley ,Nai Lalakai column writer Josaia Waqabaca and Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney outside the High Court on May 9, 2018. Photo: Fonua Talei
May 10
10:58 2018

The Fiji Times Publisher, Hank Arts, indicated to the High Court last night that he had chosen to exercise his constitutional right to remain silent during trial.Arts relayed his position through his lawyer, Marc Corlett QC, after the closing of Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Wesley’s evidence.

Fiji Times lawyer Wylie Clarke told Justice Thushara Rajasinghe that the company would be calling two witnesses today to give evidence on its behalf.

During cross examination yesterday, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney suggested to Wesley that there was, “no chance in hell” that he would have allowed a letter to be published in the Nai Lalakai without him knowing what the letter said.

Wesley agreed, however he disagreed with Mr Burney that he had knowledge about the contents of the alleged seditious letter before it was published.

Wesley said he was being truthful in his evidence after Mr Burney told him that he was lying because he wanted to cover up the fact that he had made a mistake by allowing the alleged seditious letter to be published.

He testified that he had no knowledge whether Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula ever contacted the company lawyers directly.

He also agreed with Mr Burney that it was part of his role and he was adequately trained as the Editor-in-Chief to flag any legal concerns that he may have doubts on or was uncertain of.

He agreed that as the line manager for the other three editors he ensured that they were also adequately trained to flag issues of concern.

When questioned about the Nai Lalakai newspaper, Wesley said it covered a broad range of issues relating to sports, politics and other issues pertaining to the iTaukei communities.

Wesley testified that he heard in court that the alleged seditious letter focused on concerns regarding land ownership, Muslims and leadership roles.

He said he was unaware that the first accused, Josaia Waqabaca, was a regular contributor to the Nai Lalakai and when asked by Mr Burney if Waqabaca was paid for his contributions, Wesley clarified that letter writers were not paid.

He also testified that he had never published anything similar to the alleged seditious letter adding that he referred Fiji Times letters to their lawyers quite regularly.

Wesley said he could not say for sure if letters in the Nai Lalakai often touched on sensitive issues adding he would first have to request for a translation of the kinds of letters the Nai Lalakai receives.

The witness stated that the duties imposed by the Media Decree had made him extra vigilant because he was aware that the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher were subject to heavy fines and imprisonment and were at risk for libel and prosecution for contempt of court.

He said he was aware that his name and Arts’ name were printed in the Nai Lalakai as the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher respectively.

The court heard that when Nai Lalakai letters were delivered to the Fiji Times the content on the hard copy is then typed onto a computer for input into the system and allocation onto the appropriate pages.

He said the Nai Lalakai team was made up of four staff members namely Ravula, Viliame Ravai, Viliame Odro and Unaisi Ratubalavu.

Publisher’s role

Wesley testified that Arts does not have access to editorial folders because of the editorial independence practiced within the company. He said this included managers and executives.

Mr Burney then questioned him on how a Publisher was supposed to be extra careful if he did not view what was published under his name, to which Wesley said the Publisher relies on the editors to get things right.

The court heard that Ravula could have briefed Arts in the English language about the contents of the Nai Lalakai and that in discharge of his extensive duties Arts could speak to any employee at any level of the newspaper.

Wesley said he did not have any direct knowledge if Arts spoke to any employee about the contents of the April 27, 2016 edition of the Nai Lalakai, which contained the alleged seditious letter.

Re-examination by Mr Corlett

Wesley clarified to his lawyer that on the eve of print for the three weekly newspapers within Fiji Times, each of the editors brief him about the stories in those papers in the form of headlines.

He said he does not get briefed on which letters get published in the Nai Lalakai adding that Arts does not attend those weekly briefings.

Mr Corlett asked Wesley what his understanding was of Mr Burney’s statement, “let us not nitpick, he (Arts) sets the tone for every aspect of the business.”

Wesley responded saying that the role that Arts plays was very different from his role in the editorial department.

He said Arts sets the tone in terms of budget, expectations for the coming six months, issues whether deadlines were being met and issues that affect circulation of the paper.

He stressed that Arts does not set the content for any of the newspapers.

Justice Rajasinghe sought several clarifications from Wesley about the circulation of the Nai Lalakai.

He asked Wesley how many copies of Nai Lalakai was printed on a weekly basis to which Wesley said the latest figures showed 6000 copies.

He then questioned him about the length of time the copies stay in circulation once it hits the market.

Wesley said the copies stay in the market for one week until the next publication after which the leftover copies from the previous week were collected.

First Witness for Wesley – Vonitiasi Rakuma

Upon conclusion of Wesley’s evidence, the court heard from the Fiji Times security guard who received the alleged seditious letter from Waqabaca on the day it was delivered.

Mr Rakuma said he was familiar with Waqabaca who would at times deliver his letters to him during his shift.

He said when Waqabaca arrives at the Fiji Times, he immediately calls the Nai Lalakai department and informs them that Waqabaca is there.

He said either Ravula or Ms Ratubalavu would retrieve the letter from him.

Second Witness – Niraj Maharaj

The newspaper company’s System and Network administrator Niraj Maharaj told the court that the Fiji Times used a news editing system called the Pongrass Publishing Systems.

Mr Maharaj said every employee within the editorial and graphics department had their individual username and password that they use to access the system, which did not include Arts who has no access to the system.

He said the history of the pages being worked on by staff could be seen in the system and traced back.

However, he said after a while the data is archived with their Pongrass Australian counterpart.

Mr Maharaj testified that he was directed by his manager to search Ravula’s computer for the alleged seditious letter.

He said while conducting the search he found a word file which contained the letter in question, which was saved under Ravula’s profile.

After procuring the word file he accessed its properties and printed screenshots of the same.

Mr Maharaj also testified that he conducted a search on Arts computer however he did not find the letter.

He said when he received the request from his manager he sent an email to Pongrass Australia requesting for a text file in the form of an attachment which contained all the information needed.

Upon examination of the information retrieved from the Pongrass archives, it was revealed that Ravula had entered the letter in question into the system on April 25, 2016 at around 12:30pm.

The text file also showed that the Nai Lalakai layout artist, Mr Ravai had also worked on the document, including a graphic artist by the name of Semi.

Cross examination by Aman Ravindra-Singh

Mr Singh asked Mr Maharaj to confirm the origins of the document reflected in the screenshots he had uplifted from Ravula’s computer.

Mr Maharaj said the document in question was saved in a location under A. Ravula’s profile.

He was then asked to pinpoint who was the sender of the document, to which Mr Maharaj testified that he could not.

Cross examination by Devanesh Sharma

Ravula’s lawyer questioned Mr Maharaj whether his client was aware that his computer was being searched.

Mr Maharaj said he sneaked to Ravula’s computer and searched it when he was not around and in the process procured the screenshots.

He said he received the request from his manager and as far as he was concerned he believed they had certain authority to conduct the search.

Mr Sharma told the witness that he had illegally searched Ravula’s computer to which he responded that it was a request from his superior.

Mr Sharma then suggested to Mr Maharaj that he could have at least had the courtesy to have Ravula present before searching his computer.

Mr Maharaj was questioned if there was a possibility that he could have added a document into Ravula’s computer at any time and saved it since he had access to it.

He replied saying if that was the case then it would be reflected in the text file under the date.

Mr Maharaj stated that the text file showed that a number of people had worked on the document in question and that Ravula was not the last person to work on it.

Cross examination by Mr Burney

Referring to the text file, Mr Maharaj confirmed to Mr Burney that the Nai Lalakai letter was last edited at 8:15am on April 25, 2016 and it was entered into the Pongrass system at 12:30pm.

Re-examination by Mr Corlett

Mr Maharaj stressed in court that the computers he had searched was owned by Fiji Times and his manager who is their financial controller had authorised the search.

Third witness – Viliame Ravai

The layout artist who put the Nai Lalakai letters to the editor page together for the April 27, 2016 edition gave evidence under oath and said that he laid out content which was approved by Ravula.

He said Ravula was the only person within the Nai Lalakai department, who approved the letters, edits the content and approves it and saves it on Pongrass, which is then accessed by Mr Ravai through InDesign.

He testified that after he lays out the pages he gives it back to Ravula to view it before the page is sent for printing.

Cross examination by Mr Ravindra-Singh

Mr Ravai told the court that he does not make changes to any documents because Ravula is the only person who does the editing and is the only person who decides which letters goes on the page.

He further testified that in Ravula’s absence his duties are taken up by Ms Ratubalavu.

Cross examination by Mr Sharma

Mr Ravai agreed with Mr Sharma that staff members of Fiji Times were complimentary to Nai Lalakai newspaper as they sometimes did work for both adding that there were Fiji Times departments that transcend to Nai Lalakai as well.

Cross examination by Mr Burney

The court heard in evidence that the InDesign and Pongrass system within Fiji Times was a shared system, which could be accessed by all Editors.

Mr Burney asked Mr Ravai, if Wesley approaches him as Editor-in-Chief to discuss layout designs with him.

Mr Ravai responded in the affirmative saying Wesley sometimes approached him but only to discuss design ideas for the front and last pages.

He said Wesley does not discuss ideas with him regarding the letters to the editor pages.

Mr Burney questioned Mr Ravai if in his capacity as the Publisher Arts had access to the Pongrass system to check the layout. He responded saying Arts had never done that and it would depend on him if he wanted to.

Mr Burney then asked Mr Ravai if anyone had told him to testify in court that Wesley did not understand iTaukei.

Mr Ravai responded and said that no one had told him adding that he knew very well that Wesley did not understand how to read iTaukei.

Re-examination by Mr Corlett

Mr Corlett asked Mr Ravai if Arts was standing behind him and looking over his shoulder while he was laying out page 7 of the April 27, 2016 Nai Lalakai edition which was the Letters to the Editor page. Mr Ravai responded saying no because Arts did not know anything about it.

Mr Corlett asked the witness the same regarding Wesley, to which Mr Ravai said Wesley was not standing over his shoulder while he was working on the page.

Fourth witness – Unaisi Ratubalavu

The Acting Editor of the Nai Lalakai testified that she was familiar with Waqabaca and had received a couple of his letters from him.

Ms Ratubalavu told the Court that Waqabaca usually delivers his contributions through a Universal Serial Bus (USB) and also a hard copy.

She said once the letters are received it is entered into the system and the relevant checks are done against company standards and the Media Decree.

Ms Ratubalavu stated that she has had to delete paragraphs from Waqabaca’s letters on previous occasions because it contained sensitive issues.

She further stated that the Editor on desk decides the letters that go into the newspaper and she makes that decision when Ravula is away.

She said once a week she emails Wesley a brief summary of the stories which are going on the various pages however she does not take the draft pages to him for his authorisation.

In her evidence Ms Ratubalavu said Arts does not have any input or involvement in the letters and the content of Nai Lalakai.

Further she said Wesley also had no involvement in the letters.

Cross examination by Mr Ravindra-Singh

Ms Ratubalavu agreed with Mr Ravindra-Singh that the moment a letter is given to them they have the responsibility as agents of Nai Lalakai to edit and amend it as they see fit.

She said at no point is the contributor able to persuade them about sections in the letter which should be printed.

She said they had the last say about what is published and what is not.

Cross examination by Mr Sharma

The court heard that Ms Ratubalavu has been acting as Nai Lalakai Editor since August, 2016 when Ravula was suspended.

Though the witness testified that they were not told about the reason for his suspension.

Ms Ratubalavu said she did not see the alleged seditious letter before and after it was published.

Mr Sharma asked her if she had seen any letter from anyone complaining about Waqabaca’s letter. She responded saying no.

He then asked her if she had received any feedback from the readers of Nai Lalakai who were predominantly from iTaukei communities.

Ms Ratubalavu replied that she had not received any feedback.

Cross examination by Mr Clarke

Ms Ratubalavu agreed with Mr Clarke that she checks letters because there is an editorial system in place for quality assurance.

She said they were required to comply with the Media Decree for fairness and balance.

In her experience, she said this was very important because it safeguards the company and protects its journalists.

She said for letters pertaining to ethnicity and religion, one has to be careful with the sentences and words used so as not to offend anyone.

She said the standards set by the company was clear and simple to understand and was known by everyone in the newsroom.

Cross examination by Mr Burney

Mr Burney asked Ms Ratubalavu if the alleged seditious letter complied with Fiji Times standards.

She replied saying if the letter had appeared on her watch then she would raise it with the Editor-in-Chief.

She said she did not know if Ravula had spoken to Wesley or Arts about the letter.

Having worked with Mr Ravula, to her knowledge Ms Ratubalavu said Ravula had received the same training as she did however she was not aware if he had read the Style guide.

Mr Burney suggested to the witness that if Arts had shown any interest he would have told her to brief him about the letters in Nai Lalakai.

Ms Ratubalavu disagreed saying Arts could not because of editorial independence.

She said Ravula knew Waqabaca and she had told him that Waqabaca’s letters were sometimes sensitive.

Re-examination by Mr Corlett

Ms Ratubalavu clarified that she only raised issues with Wesley if she had any concerns about the letters adding that he had advised her to drop any content that she did not feel safe about.

Trial continues in the High Court today.

All accused men are on bail.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback:  fonua.talei@fijisun.com.fj

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