Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS -- Updated arrangements for the Pacific Islands News Association biennial meeting have been welcomed by the Pacific Freedom Forum, but the regional media monitoring network is concerned over the potential pitfalls of hosting the event in Fiji.

The Pacific Islands News Association which has its coordinator, secretariat and regional news service based in Fiji's capital city, announced this week it would be postponing its 2011 Pacific Media Summit til early 2012 and relocating it from host country Papua New Guinea.

"Many PFF members trace their active advocacy of media freedom back to PINA, which is why we are concerned that media freedom will not be a leading agenda item given the current situation in Fiji" says PFF Chair Titi Gabi of Papua New Guinea.

"We support the optimism with which some colleagues have greeted the news. But a mutual dialogue best happens where both sides feel free to speak from their hearts, and skilled mediation is present," says Gabi. "As we saw in PINA 2009, the attendance by Fiji military personnel sparked a walkout and changed the tone of the whole event. What will happen next year?"

Under the media decree application process for a regional media meeting , every session of PINA 2012, every speaker presenting and the name of every delegate planning to attend has to be vetted by the regime, who can also be there 'monitoring' what is said.

Since April 2009, emergency regulations have suspended media freedom and the right to peaceful assembly, installed military censors in newsrooms, and led to a media decree which controls who can practice journalism and how they work. The last major media conference event hosted by Fiji was the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcast Development event in July 2009. Local media were notably absent, and were largely represented by state media and military information officers.

Regional media events where freedom of expression has featured, originally planned for Fiji around World Press Freedom Day, have twice been relocated to Samoa. The last event, planned for World Press Freedom Day in May 2011, had its application rejected without explanation by Fiji's Ministry of Information just days after organisers were advised it had been accepted.

"PFF have previously called for a regional media mission to Fiji to allow for some direct and frank dialogue with the regime, Fiji's people, and our media colleagues," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa, "If having PINA 2012 in Suva can help to progress such a mission without compromising its independence, we would welcome it."--ENDS