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Stronger complaints process will keep media out of court, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - 31 January 2011, PFF Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - A strong and active public feedback process on media operators in Tonga could have helped avoid the current defamation proceedings being heard in the Kingdom this week, says the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF).

"A media industry which welcomes and responds to public complaints sets a standard of credibility, and is a valuable bridge-building strategy because it helps raise public awareness of what a free and vibrant media achieves," says PFF Chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

"Without that willingness to self-regulate and a transparent, active process for complaints, the option of defamation hearings as a first step rather than a last resort on media grievances will continue to be a costly and time consuming process for all," he says.

"The current defamation case between Cabinet Minister Clive Edwards and the Kele'a newspaper provides an example of a conflict that could potentially have been solved through a robust and credible complaints process facilitated out of court, saving on court costs and resources involved for all parties".

"PFF strongly recommends that both the Ministry of Information and Communication and the Tonga Media Council work together to promote a clear and effective complaints process for members of the public to air concerns over media coverage."

"A complaints process shows that the fourth estate takes its role seriously, and keeps media on their toes in terms of ethics and professionalism. It also gives a more accessible avenue for members of the public, who cannot afford a lawsuit, to air grievances to authorities," says co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

"The PFF urges the Ministry of Information and Communication and the Tonga Media Council to continue dialogue on prioritising a media complaints procedure. There has been next to no use of the provisions under the Ministry Act to investigate written complaints, but the Tonga Media Council's Complaints Committee must be supported to take the lead on a complaints process.

"We commend the work so far. Lack of time and resources can be a key challenge for newsrooms; but the current situation highlights (that) urgency of action to ensure a well-resourced complaints process led by an independent media council can resolve grievances out of court."

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