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PFF welcomes UN concern over media freedom

(PFF/IFEX) - Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - The 'serious concern' voiced by the United Nations over media rights abuses by Vanuatu's government is a milestone moment for Pacific media freedom work.

Regional monitoring watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF and other media groups have led ongoing campaigns calling on serious abuses to media freedom in Vanuatu. PFF says the opinion expressed this week by the UN's Pacific Office for Human Rights regional representative Matilda Bogner is a welcome step by a key regional development partner opening up on an issue that's usually left to journalists to handle.

"It's good to see that the key regional body of the UN agency tasked with human rights is helping to raise the rights of journalists in this way," says PFF chair Titi Gabi of PNG.

"The ability of journalists to do their work without fear or favour means the public they serve can be informed without fear or favour.

"Vanuatu's leadership and other Pacific nations need to know that assaults and harassment of media workers undermines governance itself and lessens the credibility of leaders who allow it to happen on their watch," she says.

In her opinion published this week, Bogner notes the importance of a free media to governance and accountability and offers guidelines for leaders in Vanuatu to help tackle the culture of impunity surrounding harassment of journalists.

The Pacific Freedom Forum would especially welcome a country or regional visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, says Gabi.

"Journalists doing their jobs free from interference or censorship are one of the core features of thriving democracies. A country or regional visit by the UN special rapporteur assigned by Ban Ki Moon to investigate and advocate around freedom of expression would really help Pacific governments understand their responsibility to protect, not control, a free media."

PFF has previously called on Pacific agencies who partner with media workers on training and development to raise their concerns with Pacific governments to honour their development commitments which rest on support for human rights.

"We are mindful that regional agencies based in Fiji, where military censorship and leadership by decree continue to suppress freedom of expression and other key human rights, may themselves be self-censoring and fearing for their personal and professional safety," says PFF co-Chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

"It's the work of all of us, not just media and monitoring networks like PFF, to sound the warnings when our governments backtrack on their promises and agreements, especially on basic human rights. So we look forward to more opinions from the UN on Article 19 in the Pacific, including the country where the regional office is hosted-- Fiji."

To read the UN Pacific OHCHR opinion, click here
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