Rarotonga, Cook Islands, May 3 2014--
Pacific governments must stop treating news media as development enemies and start supporting independent journalism as an essential partner for progress, says the Pacific Freedom Forum.
As the region marks World Press Freedom Day 2014, the PFF states that clear and present threats against media freedom are as strong as ever.
"Events across the region in just just the last few weeks show that governments, large and small, regard the news media as an enemy," says PFF Chair Titi Gabi.
"Whether it's funding reviews against the public broadcaster in Australia or threats by Parliament against private media in Samoa, the message is the same - your role is not recognised, and your voice is not welcome," says Gabi.
"These attitudes are archaic, and fail, as they always have, to take into account that national development depends heavily on an informed and involved citizenry."
PFF said it was therefore welcoming to see calls by the sole global body dealing with media freedom, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, for recognition of news media in the post-2015 development dialogue.
"This recognition is long overdue," says Gabi, speaking from Port Moresby.
"We are officially lauded as the Fourth Estate, but unofficially ranked in terms of national priority as more like the 40th estate."
PFF outlined recent events of concern including:
Australia: a funding review of public broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after exposing state surveillance of regional partners, especially Indonesia.
West Papua: continued state suppression of freedoms of speech by political activists and journalists reporting on national affairs.
Papua New Guinea: court action against news media raising issues of public interest surrounding the contentious Manus Island detention centre.
Fiji: ongoing interference and threats by the military regime against media and others exercising freedoms of speech ahead of crucial general elections.
Samoa: threats of legal action by both government and opposition members against private media for their coverage of public issues.
French Polynesia: ongoing legal manoeuvres hindering official investigations, now in their tenth year, into the disappearance of a journalist in 1997.
PFF co-chair Monica Miller said these events had one common theme uniting their disparate subjects.
"All are evidence of Pacific governments placing short-term political and legalistic considerations ahead of constitutional guarantees ensuring human rights, including fundamental freedoms of speech.
"Collectively, these events show a disgraceful lack of adherence to high-level declarations towards regional advancement."
Speaking from Pagopago, American Samoa, Miller said that governments and the judiciary across Pacific states must start putting constitutional freedoms ahead of alleged legal infringements if the region is to have any hope of developmental success.
“Across the region this week, media are under judicial, political and economic threat,” says Miller.
"This at a time when those same governments are calling for global recognition of existential threats from issues such as climate change."
Freedom of speech is not an optional extra, says Miller.
"Our true progress as nation states depends on all our peoples being given full voice to air their concerns, and not subjected to arbitrary restrictions decided upon the whims of the governments of the day."
Finally, PFF also notes with concern silence from Fiji with regards to its own coordinator, Ricardo Morris, who is facing increased pressure against his advocacy role with the regional media freedom body.--ENDS
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