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SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 10, 1999 - Radio Australia)---The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) has defended its right to criticize the Vanuatu government, which has told the organization not to interfere in a dispute over the alleged intimidation of local news media.

The dispute began following the alleged assault of the editor of the Vanuatu Trading Post by an associate of Deputy Prime Minister Willy Jimmy.

Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas criticized PINA’s comments and coverage of the matter, which he said was "a minor incident," and a local issue. (See previous PIR reports, May 5, May 6 and May 7, 1999.)

PINA President William Parkinson responded by saying it is the role of PINA to help reporters, journalists and editors.

"Very often governments get very uncomfortable when we place them under this kind of scrutiny and we often get comments like the one . . . from Vanuatu," Parkinson said. "But the reality is that media freedom is not just a local issue. It's an international issue. It's a reflection of how a democracy is functioning and how an economy is functioning."

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