Monday, 21 January 2013 12:53 PM

PFF Praises Cool Heads in Vanuatu

PFF, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS -- An exchange of letters is an admirably measured response to disagreement in Vanuatu over licensing and ethics at a capital radio station, says the Pacific Freedom Forum.

"Members would like to praise the government of Vanuatu, particularly, for following letters of law in what appears to be an entirely proper attempt to follow due process," says PFF chair Titi Gabi.

"This is a vast improvement on armed and drunken thugs, including police, breaking into newsrooms and assaulting journalists doing their job."

PFF draws encouragement from news so far from Port Vila.

"However, an admirably measured response from the Government of Vanuatu cannot yet be counted as a media freedom success - more the absence of failure, in the form of previous threats and violence."

Having established due process, Gabi cautions against any advice to take further official action in closing down the station, too soon.

"Government is effectively making a legal claim against a leading radio station and needs to fairly test this claim, including in court if need be."

Commenting from Pagopago, PFF co-chair Monica Miller says there is an equal responsibility on the part of the radio station management to make themselves accountable to their code of ethics, their audience, the public, the law, and their regional membership to PINA, the Pacific Islands News Association.

Capital FM 107.7FM founder Moses Stevens is also president of PINA, and bears "particular responsibility" to show leadership and accountability by publishing a copy of their certificate, current or otherwise.

"Either the station has a licence or does not," says Miller. "And if not, why not?"

"Station management could publicly confirm their license status, including any difficulties they may be facing in getting their license reviewed and renewed."

Miller says various scenarios arise from news about the current situation in Vanuatu.

"Either the government is using licensing and ethics as an excuse to close down a critic," she says, "or elements at the station have gone rogue, refusing to pay licenses and breaking their own code of ethics."

A third, more complicated scenario involves all four elements.

"Whatever the truth of the matter in Port Vila, cooler heads in the political parties of Vanuatu need to consider their own history of actions against media."

This includes deportation and assault, one on a reporter who subsequently lost her unborn child.

"Stepping carefully now acknowledges those mistakes of the past, and helps ensure there are no future assaults on the Fourth Estate in the constitutional republic of Vanuatu."

Miller says there is a documented history of undue pressure from party supporters over all parts of the political spectrum in Vanuatu, in common with other PFF countries.

"Vanuatu has an opportunity here to leave that post-colonial era behind," she says.