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PFF cites media freedom concerns following journalist's termination, newspaper closure

(PFF/IFEX) - 5 March 2011, Rarotonga, Cook Islands - The fragility of media freedom and news industries in some Pacific states has been highlighted in Palau, says regional monitoring network the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

The forum says concerns arising from two high level court cases in Palau need a closer look, after a February 2011 Supreme Court ruling finding an "alien" registration fee scheme led by President Johnson Toribiong's government was unconstitutional. The class action suit leading to the Supreme Court decision was filed in late 2010 by Palau Horizon senior journalist Bernadette Carreon and others. Carreon is from the Philippines and had worked at the Horizon for a decade. She was "terminated" not long after the suit was filed. However her other news colleagues followed suit when the whole newspaper printed its last edition on 20 November 2010.

"Media freedom concerns centre on job loss for the journalist - and loss of her newspaper," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea. "Independent sources of information for people of Palau can only be provided by a free and pluralistic media industry. To lose a key operator such as the Palau Horizon, and a journalist of Carreon's calibre, leaves a void where a quality news provider used to be."

Online reports reviewed by PFF state that her former employer, long time newspaper Palau Horizon, closed after 12 years, printing a last edition on 20 November 2010. Publisher Abed E. Younis cited a "negative business atmosphere" and the slow economy. He continues to run his publishing business.

In another case reported by the Palau Horizon before it closed, the Attorney General stepped in to halt prosecution proceedings into alleged money laundering involving US$22 billion.

"A journalist involved in a successful claim at the Supreme Court level underscores the need for vigilance under press freedom laws of the Palau constitution," says Miller.

"Specifically, section 2 of Article 4 under fundamental rights states that the government shall take no action to deny or impair freedom of expression or the press."

Both cases need re-examining for impact on freedom of the press in Palau, says the PFF.

"In some instances it's physical or psychological trauma against an individual journalist. In others, it is big business or political boycotts and interference against publishers which spills over into newsrooms."

"We salute Carreon's courage in standing against injustice, and sympathise with her and colleagues of the Palau Horizon at this time," says Miller.

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