Monday, July 7, 2014

Will Fiji Times dodge a bullet in Kabakoro case?

Suppression orders are routine in cases of domestic violence in most countries, a fact which apparently escaped just about everyone yesterday after word leaked out that the dictator’s son Meli Bainimarama and his beautiful bride of only six months, Hosanna Kabakoro, had both been arrested and charged after a weekend altercation. Most cases of domestic violence go unnoticed by the media, of course, but this one has a double dose of the news value we call Prominence. Any time celebrities are involved, the newsworthiness of a story goes up, and this one was too sensational for a couple of Fiji news outlets to resist. Unfortunately for them, that is a crime under the 2009 Domestic Violence Decree, which allows for a suppression order to be made on the names of the parties involved. The intent is to protect the victim, of course, but the name of the accused is also usually banned from publication if a suppression order is made because publishing it would tend to identify the victim. The question in this case is exactly who is the victim.

Please don't spoil her beautiful face
After the Fiji Times and FBC ran stories naming the couple on Monday, Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde sent a memo around to media outlets informing them that a suppression order had been made. He also ordered media to immediately retract any account of the proceedings that had been published or broadcast. It would be impossible to recall every copy of the Times that had been printed, of course, but the newspaper did remove the story it had posted on its website, as did FBC. From the wording of Pryde’s memo, the order was made on Monday morning. It was likely made after regular business hours commenced, or several hours after the Fiji Times would have hit the streets. This could save the Times, which was fined $300,000 for contempt of court a couple of years ago. Another conviction would likely bring an even larger fine, which could potentially bankrupt the newspaper.

The question becomes, did FBC air the story before or after the suppression order was made? According to Google, its story was posted online five hours after the Fiji Times story. If it was aired after the suppression order was made, it could be in hot water. We would be amazed, however, if the regime-friendly broadcaster, which is run by the brother of Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, suffers any consequences. If it doesn’t and the Times does, then there will be much justified howling about favoritism.

The evidence
Word of the story leaked out Sunday on Facebook, with Fairfax New Zealand reporter Michael Field posting a cryptic item that basically dared Fiji media to investigate. “Reliable reports coming out of Suva that a key figure in the military regime is in police custody and his wife is in hospital in a bad way,” he wrote. “Local media too frightened to report.” Field reported the story on Monday, but committed an embarrassing spelling mistake. As if to prove Field wrong, the Times surprisingly ran with the story, perhaps without getting legal advice, reporting that Kabakoro suffered lacerations to her hands and bruises on her body.

According to Repúblika magazine, in a Facebook post that has also been removed, Meli Bainimarama faces four counts of assault, was released on $3,000 bail, was ordered not to have any contact with his wife, and will appear in court again on August 11. Kabakoro was also bailed, according to Repúblika, “but must appear in the High Court in the next court date because her charges are more severe. She is charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.” Repúblika also reported that an interim suppression order had been issued, which could spell trouble for the Times and FBC, both of which reported the story after the couple had appeared in court and been released on bail.

To make the story even more newsworthy, Kakaboro is herself a journalist, being an editor at Mai Life magazine and a former Miss Congeniality in the 2010 Miss Teen USA contest. Her family fled Fiji following the 2000 coup and she attended the University of Southern Idaho. She shacked up with Meli Bainimarama, a former soldier who now runs his own company of mercenaries and lives with his parents, and actually moved into the dictator's home with him last year, according to Field. Their New Year’s nuptials were not without controversy, Field reported, although not as much controversy as the wedding of the dictator’s daughter eight years previously. (No wonder the junta slurpers hate Field so much. He gets all the dirt.)
The couple decided to marry on December 21, but a family row blew up and the couple left for Nadi – and a small family-free wedding on New Year’s Eve at a luxury resort. Fiji media sources say local media have been told not to report any of the drama. The daily Fiji Times instead devoted its front page to the Boxing Day wedding of a Fiji clan leader, Anare Peni, 71, to one Merelita Canauvi, 20.
The most prominent person in this story, of course, is the dictator himself, and the blogs are having a field day with the hypocrisy involved. “How many lectures have we had from the leader of Fiji Fist on domestic violence?” asked Fiji Democracy Now. “From the start there has been a contradiction between the high sounding regime rhetoric and the practice.” Not six weeks ago, the dictator called violence against women a “national disgrace” and vowed to crack down on it. “It is time for all of us to think long and hard about the treatment of women in our nation because the continuing level of domestic violence in Fiji,” he said. “Through my government’s initiatives, the police have adopted a policy of zero tolerance of all violence against women.” It will be interesting to see who gets cracked down as a result of this sorry incident – husband, wife, or media.

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