REPRESSION of journalists and civil rights, censorship, and self-censorship are threatening a free press in the Pacific, a media freedom report concluded.
It coincides with UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, observed yearly on May 3.
The 41-page report and video by the Pacific Media Centre’s freedom project Pacific Media Watch documents the “fragile” state of the media in the region.
“The state of Pacific media freedom remains fragile with setbacks across the region in spite of the brief glimmer of hope in Fiji with the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) at the start of this year,” said Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie.
“While official censorship has been lifted, the tough Fiji Media Industry Development Decree imposed by the military-backed regime is still in force and is a major chilling factor for the local – and foreign – news media.
“Self-censorship is rife and suspicion plagues rival media groups eyeing a favoured place in an authoritarian mediascape.
“It is not an encouraging environment for freedom of expression as the country looks to the promised and hoped for elections in 2014.”
Freedom issues are faced particularly by Māori, Pasifika and ethnic journalists in comparison to the mainstream media culture.
The media freedom report will be launched at a WPFD seminar hosted by the Pacific Media Centre and chaired by Fijian Dr Steven Ratuva of Auckland University’s Centre for Pacific Studies at AUT tonight.
Dr Robie said the worrying trend set last year had continued into this year and he cited the following issues:
- Fiji: The lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) has ended formal censorship the draconian Fiji Media Industry Development Decree 2010 is still in place: “Many journalists and civil society advocates are still fearful of speaking out due to the harsh legal penalties that they face under the law and this will damage the democratisation process,” Dr Robie said.
- Papua New Guinea: A rise in assaults and intimidation of journalists reporting on the ongoing political crisis with “two governments” since late last year, two violent incidents involving armed police. “The continued political uncertainty and climate of impunity has raised the stakes for journalists,” Dr Robie said.
- West Papua: “In the past year, there have been two killings of journalists, five abductions or attempted abductions, 18 assaults (including repeated cases against some journalists), censorship by both the civil and military authorities and two police arrests (but no charges),” said the media freedom report.
Dr Robie said: “Clearly the two provinces of West Papua are the most dangerous places for the media in the Pacific region.
“While politically, the territory is regarded globally as part of Indonesia, the Papuans are Melanesian and the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific media advocacy groups should be giving their Melanesian brothers priority support.
“This is the major media freedom hot spot at the moment. But it is mostly dropping below the radar for Australia, New Zealand and independent Pacific nations.”
The WPFD seminar “Media Freedom in the Pacific: The rhetoric and the reality” will be held at the Pacific Media Centre (WT1004) in the AUT Tower building, 2 Rutland St, Auckland, 7-8.30pm, May 3