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State media must serve public, not politicians, says PFF

(PFF/IFEX) - 11 August 2011, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - Another episode of newsroom intimidation in Vanuatu by a government minister has been strongly condemned by regional media monitoring watchdog, the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF). Politicians must be reminded that state media outlets funded by taxpayers should be able to do their jobs without interference or pressure.

According to news reports, Vanuatu's Minister of Ni-Vanuatu business, Pastor Don Ken, visited the newsroom of the state-owned Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation demanding that a story covering his arrest and jailing on the eve of Vanuatu Independence day celebrations in July 2011 be censored.

"We stand in solidarity with the Media Assosiasen Blo Vanuatu statement noting this action is unacceptable, and call on ministers to set the example to other public officials on upholding editorial independence of all media," says PFF chair Titi Gabi, of Papua New Guinea.

"Whether they work for a state or private media outlet, journalists should be able to impartially inform the public freely and without fear or favour - especially when it comes to highly paid and powerful public servants whose actions breach a nation's law, or codes of conduct," she says.

According to news reports, journalists at Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation are concerned over ongoing political intimidation in the wake of threats of legal action by Minister Ken.

His highly publicised arrest and jailing during Vanuatu's 2011 independence celebrations prompted his visit to the newsroom of the state broadcaster. In recent weeks, PFF had also condemned and questioned the court fine against Vanuatu's Minister of Public Utilities and Infrastructure Harry Iauko, who was involved in the assault on the publisher of the "Vanuatu Daily Post" in early March. He was fined the local equivalent of about US$150 after he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the assault on publisher Marc Neil Jones while more serious charges to which he entered a not guilty plea were withdrawn by prosecutors.

"We implore the Prime Minister to stamp out the political intimidation undermining his own leadership," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

"Sadly, without an immediate and well-coordinated official investigation into the incident, we fear that this abuse of position and power will continue. Vanuatu's people need to know that the ongoing culture of impunity and intimidation amongst their elected leaders is not just damaging the credibility of their government. Their right to be told the truth is also at stake."

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