NEW ZEALAND JOURNALIST MICHAEL FIELD BARRED FROM KIRIBATI

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ALERTS

INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION COMMUNITY (IFEX)

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva

**See IFEX alerts of June 24, 1998 and September 21, 1999 at http://www.ifex.org/**

SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 29, 1999 - PINA/IFEX)---On November 29, 1999, the regional news service PACNEWS reported that Kiribati has barred New Zealand journalist Michael Field from the country. It said President Teburoro Tito had told Parliament the government banned Field because of his articles published in the regional magazine "Pacific Islands Monthly."

Field is an Agence France-Presse journalist based in New Zealand who regularly travels in the Pacific Islands and reports on regional issues. He is already prevented from entering the Kingdom of Tonga. That country's government routinely refuses him entry (see IFEX alert of June 24, 1998).

Field's reports in "Pacific Islands Monthly" highlighted major development problems in South Tarawa, the main atoll of Kiribati, a central Pacific nation of 84,000. He also wrote about efforts to block the directors of Newair FM, who are trying to set up Kiribati's first non-government radio station (see IFEX alert of September 21, 1999), and questions about the role of a Chinese research station in Kiribati. Tito called Field's articles biased and sensational and said they reflected Kiribati in a bad light.

PINA has previously appealed to the Tongan government to allow Field into the country and to respect Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of information and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

BACKGROUND:

Efforts to set up Kiribati's first non-government radio station led to the station's directors being charged with importing radio equipment without a license and establishing a radio station without a license. At present the Kiribati government-owned Broadcasting and Publications Authority operates the only radio station, Radio Kiribati, and publishes the country's only newspaper, the weekly "Te Uekera" (see IFEX alert of September 21, 1999).

 

JOURNALISTS TO SUE FIJI GOVERNMENT PARLIAMENTARIAN OVER LETTER

SOURCE: Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Suva

**Updates IFEX alerts of November 24 and 25, 1999 at http://www.ifex.org/**

SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 26, 1999 – PINA/IFEX)---On November 26, 1999, three "Fiji Times" journalists instructed their lawyers to begin defamation action against a government Member of Parliament (MP), the newspaper reported. The defamation actions are over a letter to the editor MP Muthu Swamy wrote following criticism of his attack on the three journalists in the House of Representatives (see IFEX alert of November 24). Under Fiji law, his comments made in the House of Representatives are protected from legal action by parliamentary privilege but not those in the letter to the editor. Part of the letter was published by "The Fiji Times" on November 26 with a footnote saying it had to be edited because of its defamatory contents. The journalists are associate editor Netani Rika, who is currently acting editor of the daily newspaper, and news reporters Margaret Wise and Matelita Ragogo.

The news of the legal action came as condemnation of Swamy's parliamentary attack on the journalists continued. Opposition leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, a former Information Minister, said in a statement: "Muthu Swamy's attack using a stolen photograph brought parliamentary debate to an all-time low."

He said Prime Minister and Information Minister Mahendra Chaudhry should drop Swamy from his delegation going to a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, USA, next week. "This is in obviously pay off time ... when in fact he should be disciplined," Ratu Inoke said. The Fiji Women's Rights Movement coordinator Gina Houng Lee said the movement is shocked by the attack on the private lives of the women journalists. "If the MPs have an issue with the 'Fiji Times' then they should attack the 'Fiji Times' and not the individual journalists," "The Fiji Sun" quoted her as saying.

"The Fiji Times" is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. It is a previous winner of the PINA Pacific Freedom of Information award for its defense of freedom of expression and the Fiji public's right to know.

BACKGROUND:

Police are investigating the theft of a photo from the home of the editor of a Hindi weekly, which is published by "The Fiji Times." The photo was brandished in parliament on November 24 by Swamy when he made allegations against "The Fiji Times," and about the private lives of Rika, Wise, and Ragogo. PINA President William Parkinson cautioned parliamentarians not to risk putting their own private lives under scrutiny by revealing personal details about journalists. He said the Fiji media have until now avoided revealing the private lives of public figures. Parkinson condemned Swamy's attack as disgraceful.

On October 27, there was widespread criticism in the Fiji Islands of threats by Prime Minister Chaudhry to bring in a government-regulated media tribunal with powers to impose penalties on the media. One of the country's three daily newspapers also reported on the government's plans to introduce legislation requiring compulsory licensing of foreign-owned Fiji Islands media. This included setting strict conditions under which they had to report and operate or risk losing their license, and imposing a F$ 20,000 (approx. US$ 10,000) annual license fee (see IFEX alerts of October 28 and October 26, 1999).

Chaudhry had again attacked the Fiji Islands news media and individual journalists following a series of earlier criticisms. In a lengthy address, the Prime Minister singled out three of Fiji's main independent news organizations, "The Fiji Times," Fiji Television and "Islands Business" magazine, for detailed criticism.

The Fiji Islands has among the most diverse and free news media in the Pacific Islands. They include: three seven-day-a-week English-language daily newspapers; weekly newspapers in Hindi, Fijian, and English; news, business, trade and entertainment magazines; independent commercial, community and religious radio stations; government-owned public and commercial radio stations; and commercial and community television. However, the news media have come under continuing criticism from Chaudhry and his assistant information minister, Lekh Ram Vayeshnoi. This follows the election of their new Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government in May (see IFEX alerts).

For further information, contact: Nina Ratulele, Coordinator PINA Pacific Freedom of Information Network Pacific Islands News Association Mailing Address: Pacific Islands News Association Private Mail Bag, Suva Fiji Islands Street Address: Level 2, Damodar Centre 46 Gordon Street Suva, Fiji Islands Tel: +679 303623 Fax: +679 303943 E-mail: pina@is.com.fj  Internet site: http://www.pressasia.org/PFA/ 

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of PINA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit PINA.

DISTRIBUTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EXCHANGE (IFEX) CLEARING HOUSE 489 College Street Toronto (ON) M6G 1A5 CANADA Tel: +1 416 515 9622 Fax: +1 416 515 7879 Alerts e-mail: alerts@ifex.org  General e-mail: ifex@ifex.org  Internet site: http://www.ifex.org/ 

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