CLAIM OF JAIL THREAT BEHIND JOURNALISTS' SUSPENSION IN VANUATU

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (September 22, 1999 – Radio Australia)---A senior executive of Vanuatu's Press Club believes the General Manager of the Vanuatu Broadcasting Corporation, Jonas Cullwick, has been threatened with jail over the corporation's political reporting.

Two senior journalists at VBTC have been suspended following allegations they were creating political instability, because of a story which claimed two members of the ruling coalition had defected to the opposition.

The Vanuatu government's media adviser has denied there was any threat to jail the General Manager.

But the Vice-Chairman of the Press Club, Alick Kalmelu, says after meeting Mr. Cullwick over the suspensions, he believes there was a threat:

"And he only read out the last sentence of the letter in which he mentioned something about going to prison.

"He doesn't, Jonas told us, he doesn't want to go to prison.

"So I took it as Vice-Chairman of the Press Club, that when you say something about prison there's a threat to media freedom in Vanuatu," said Kalmelu.

STATEMENT

From The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) On The Situation In Vanuatu

The Pacific Islands News Association today appealed for the fundamental human rights to Freedom of Expression and Information to be respected in the current political power struggle in Vanuatu.

A PINA statement said PINA was deeply disturbed to hear of the suspension of the editor and desk editor of the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation (VBTC).

It appealed for the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of editor Moses Stevens and his desk editor for radio and television, Hilaire Bule.

PINA said it had received a series of complaints from Vanuatu journalists alleging growing government interference in the daily running of VBTC and the news its stations carried.

PINA said it was informed Mr. Stevens and Mr. Bule were suspended after telling a Pres Klab blong Vanuatu meeting that they had been directed not to broadcast news that a Government backbencher defected to the Opposition.

The PINA statement said VBTC is largely a publicly funded national broadcaster and the duty of the organization and its staff is to fully and impartially inform all the people of Vanuatu.

PINA said VBTC is not there to serve the personal interests of whichever politicians happen to be in power.

PINA said that media freedom in Vanuatu had till recently advanced a long way from the times when there was outrageous political interference in the running of VBTC. All those responsible for this improvement deserve congratulation. PINA appealed to everyone in Vanuatu to ensure there was now no return to the bad days of old.

PINA congratulated the members of Pres Klab blong Vanuatu and others in the Vanuatu news media for uniting in defending Media Freedom and the right of the Vanuatu people to Freedom of Information and Expression.

PINA said anyone tempted to interfere with Media Freedom should remember that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of information and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

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