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Editorial

Editorial: It’s time to speak out for a free press

Press Freedom Fiji
The United Nations Human Rights council sits to hear complaints over Press Freedoms. Picture: Reporters Without Borders.

Yesterday, May 3, was the UN declared “World Press Freedom Day”, and unsurprisingly, with the exception of a story on Radio New Zealand’s website, it didn’t receive much coverage across the Pacific.

There’s a good reason for this. Across the Pacific, media is stifled and democracy is undermined by government control of media outlets. Many Pacific governments don’t like accountability or scrutiny.

Fiji – a country that is a regional leader and thus should be an example, is currently ranked 102 on the World Press Freedom Index, due to its heavy handed censorship. The 2010 Media Industry Development Decree ensures journalists are subject to huge fines or jail for publishing content that is against the public interest (translated as against the Government’s wishes).

Papua New Guinea ranks at 62 on the same index, while Tonga comes in at 49. But if some other Pacific nations were ranked, and they are not due to size, they could be lower than Fiji.

Many smaller island nations only have one media outlet which is run by the government and provides no objective or critical coverage of the government. The media is basically a PR machine.

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The result of this darkened democracy means that many citizens of Pacific nations are not able to access objective and balanced journalism from a local source. They are fed government-controlled propaganda and have to seek out other sources like social media to find out and discuss issues.

It also makes independent regional journalism like The Pacific Advocate more important. We – and others who are not under the control of governments – are a vital channel of information and play an increasingly important role in the region.

The silence from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) on this issue is deafening. Speaking of PIF, since The Pacific Advocate commenced, its media office has rebuffed every request by our journalists for answers to questions about any topic. PIF is accountable to the Pacific because they are spending money provided by member states, which can only come from revenue generated by the people of the Pacific region. Yet not only does this leadership organisation reject accountability, but they refuse to take a stand on issues like press freedom which is the bedrock of democracy.

Australia and New Zealand also say nothing, presumably because they don’t want to put Pacific leaders offside. Yet while everyone says nothing and does nothing, the losers are the Pacific people who deserve a free press and information from all perspectives.

1 Comment
  1. Peter Rae 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Just as important maybe more, is censorship of social media which is influenced and supported by governments. Social media has become the premier place of sharing information, discussion, education. It’s the peoples meeting place. Social media is a wonderfull tool for education when used responsibly.
    Elon Musk has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons by acquiring Twitter, putting F.B and other platforms on notice to stop their immoral censorship of free speech.

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