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IFJ joins Pacific call for action on media freedom

(IFJ/IFEX) - May 10, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins a call by journalists representing 12 Pacific nations for governments of the region to defend and promote freedom of the media in the Pacific, in line with their international obligations under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The call was made by 40 journalists and media workers from across the Pacific at the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) in Apia, Samoa, from May 6 to 8.

The "Project XIX: Courage Under Fire" seminar, which included a two-day workshop on freedom of expression and media rights reporting and monitoring delivered by the IFJ, sought to address growing threats to media freedom in the Pacific region.

The delegates, who shared their personal experiences of abuse and intimidation, expressed deep concerns about increasing violations of journalists' rights and media freedom in their countries and across the region.

They noted that attacks on journalists and draconian restrictions on the media in several Pacific Island countries threatened the quality and diversity of regional journalism as well as the right of ordinary people to information.

"We delegates heard first-hand reports of attacks on media freedom and individual journalists, and applaud 'courage under fire' shown by journalists sharing their stories with us," the delegates said in their outcome statement.

They agreed to unified action to conduct systematic monitoring and reporting of threats and attacks on journalists and media freedoms across the Pacific.

"The IFJ strongly endorses the commitment shown by Pacific journalists to defend the rights of journalists and the media in the Pacific Islands. A coherent program for monitoring and reporting on violations of media rights will strengthen the ability and resolve of journalists throughout the Pacific to work together to counter such abuses and to build regional unity in defending free media," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

The media crisis in Fiji was a recurring theme throughout the meeting, bringing to the fore the seriousness of the challenge for Pacific media.

The event was originally scheduled to be held in Fiji to coincide with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. However, the worsening of the constitutional crisis in Fiji in April and the military regime's subsequent imposition of emergency regulations and harsh restrictions on media forced a change of venue to Samoa.

Delegates in Apia called for a prompt resolution of the Fiji crisis, noting that the clampdown on the media in Fiji poses a region-wide crisis.

As a first step, they urged regional news service PACNEWS, run by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), to move its secretariat out of Fiji in order to maintain its independence.

"We strongly urge Pacific governments and media colleagues alike to accept open debate, criticism and public feedback as the lifeblood of democracy, which must be embraced in order to give all Pacific citizens a voice," the Apia statement said.

The delegates also agreed to work for the provision of insurance and security measures for media personnel, and to advocate for an assurance of equal professional rights and personal security for women journalists and media workers in the Pacific.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the IFJ and Pacific delegates warmly welcomed an assurance by Samoa's Prime Minister to uphold media freedoms in the Pacific.

Delivering an address at a Pacific Media Freedom Day event on May 8 hosted by the Journalists' Association of Western Samoa (JAWS), Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi reiterated his personal commitment to a free and quality media throughout the Pacific.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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