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Pacific Freedom Forum calls for cross-party support for free media

This statement was originally published on PFF's Facebook page on 13 March 2016.

Free media need support from all political parties, not just the government of the day, says PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.

“We welcome moves by the new government of Vanuatu to rebuild the public broadcaster,” says PFF Chair Titi Gabi, commenting on recent moves in one Pacific nation.

“But in a region of political instability it is important that governments seek to build support for a free media on all sides of Parliament.”

Recent disasters in Vanuatu and Fiji again emphasise the point previously made by PFF that timely, trustworthy and independent information is of life or death importance to Pacific states, says Gabi.

PFF is also welcoming reports that the new Port Vila administration will look at long-stalled plans for Freedom of Information legislation.

“Access to information is now considered a fundamental human right,” says Gabi.

“Without free access to information, Pacific citizens cannot make informed decisions or properly participate in national or regional development.”

Political intereference?

PFF Co-Chair Monica Miller says the decision to sack the previous board of the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation may cause concern about continued political interference in news media.

“There is a heavy burden upon the new administration of Sariboh Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas to prove they are acting in the best interests of the public, and not seeking more heavy-handed control of the public broadcaster.”

Miller says the appointment of independent members such as a representative from Transparency International, a member of a minor party and former and current journalists offers immediate hope that the new board will make the right decisions.

PFF is reissuing a call to development partners to work with Pacific governments on media freedoms, including the need for a “long overdue” follow up to the historic 1990 conference in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on building media and government relations.

The moves in Vanuatu, towards rebuilding a national broadcasting network, add to hopes for greater Pacific openness stemming from a new administration in Tonga, headed by former journalist and media freedom campaigner, Akilisi Pohiva.

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