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PFF welcomes fair use ruling on mining photos

(PFF/IFEX) - March 8, Rarotonga, Cook Islands - A judge's instruction backing the fair use of photos snapped by landowners at a controversial mining project in Madang, Papua New Guinea, is being welcomed by the Pacific Freedom Forum.

"The judiciary in Papua New Guinea deserves praise for refusing to gag the use of photos," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea, of Papua New Guinea.

PFF has reviewed the background into the case brought by the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), which co-owns the Ramu Nickel Mine with an Australian company, Highlands Pacific.

The mine, a US$1.5 billion project that would discharge five million tons of waste into coastal waters, has for years generated controversy over allegations MCC is seeking to avoid due process.

Asked by mining project lawyers to ban the publication of photos, PNG national court judge Justice David Cannings told the court on March 5 that he would not rule on how photos should be used - only that the photos should not suffer "misuse".

"His only warning about photos taken at Ramu Nickel Mine - against misuse - is entirely correct. The photos are not a state secret," said Laumaea.

"Similar photos have graced the pages of two daily tabloids, a weekly and the screens of two TV networks in the past," he added.

Justice Cannings ruled against a ban soon after visiting the mining site with members of the court. Reports cited by PFF show the judge also instructed that evidence from the court visit to the mine be entered into the record, as this does not always happen in other cases.

"The ruling sends a clear message to mining and other resource interests of the independence of the judiciary in refusing to support a 'gag' on free expression, and should be taken note of by Pacific neighbours as investor interest in resource mining grows," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

The photography ruling sought by the MCC is part of a larger legal wrangle with landowners over concerns about the environment impact of the project. The next hearing is scheduled for 23 March 2011.

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