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PFF urges investigation into broadcaster's suspension

(PFF/IFEX) - Regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) is encouraging the management of New Zealand's flagship Pacific Islands radio station Niu FM 531pi to launch an independent investigation into the June suspension - and then reinstatement - of veteran Fiji journalist Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu.

Ligalevu, a seasoned journalist and well-known member of the New Zealand-Fijian community, has been presenting the Fiji-language program Voqa kei Viti since 1980.

She was suspended after angry emails were received in the wake of a 20-minute interview with visiting human rights activist Akuila Yabaki. While wider responses to the program were positive, three complaints had been received but Ligalevu was initially refused the right to see them.

Niu FM 531pi is a popular Pacific Radio network covering New Zealand's Pacific communities and receives funding from a mix of public and commercial revenues.

The unexplained absence of Ligalevu from the airwaves during her usual Fiji-language stint on weekends only came to light after a student journalist at Auckland University of Technology's Pacific Media Centre picked up on her suspension and reported it.

"What is disturbing and sad is that the situation has revealed that Niu FM 531pi chose to send home one of their most media professionals, on a whim. It has raised questions of judgment and professionalism on the part of management which Ms Ligalevu, Niu FM 531pi listeners and New Zealand taxpayers deserve to see addressed," said PFF co-chair Susuve Laumaea, of Papua New Guinea.

"While management have reinstated Ligalevu, the demoralizing lack of support and procedural fairness which led to her suspension merits an independent investigation into how the station handles complaints from listeners; along with an open apology from management to Ligalevu and her listeners, at the unfair situation they placed her in," said Laumaea.

"It's sad to see that even in New Zealand, where a tried and tested National Broadcasting Tribunal and Standards Authority is in place to deal with listener complaints in a transparent way, the flagship PI station failed to recognise its own leading role," said PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

"Fijians and the Pacific Community in New Zealand are starved for quality, indigenous analysis from well-known commentators like Akuila Yabaki. Ligalevu and Niu FM 531pi should be congratulated for a deeper and broader analysis lifting the standard of New Zealand media coverage so far."

"For a radio station claiming to serve the Pacific community and be a bridge on Pacific current affairs to the rest of New Zealand, it's especially important that the work of Fiji journalists such as Ligalevu in bringing quality debates on Fiji into the public domain, must be recognized," she said.

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