Micronesian Nations Leading Pacific Region In

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Media Freedom
Palau and Marshalls rank in top 20 of 197 countries

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 11, 2012) – Palau and the Marshall Islands lead 40 nations in the Asia/Pacific region in media freedom, according to a global report issued last week.

Of 197 nations rated globally, Palau ranked number 16 and the Marshall Islands ranked 17, said the Freedom House annual press freedom report. In Asia and the Pacific, Palau and the Marshall Islands ranked number one and two, respectively, with the Federated States of Micronesia coming in at number five.

"I absolutely support freedom of the press," said Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak Wednesday commenting on the high ranking globally of the islands in the latest media freedom report. "I’m glad the Marshall Islands is ranked high in media freedom," Loeak said. "I welcome a free media."

In the Asia/Pacific region, Pacific islands dominated the top 15 nations listed as having "free" media, with only New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Taiwan in the top portion of the 40 Asia/Pacific nations evaluated.

Former Pacific Magazine publisher Floyd Takeuchi said history has shown that media freedom is central to the development of democratic institutions in all three of the independent nations in the Western Pacific.

"Although the Internet is of critical importance, its access for the most part is limited to those with access to computers, electricity and money to pay for time online," Takeuchi said. "Today, a well-read newspaper handed along from one reader to the next is truly the only mass information medium. In my view, the impact of newspapers in the Micronesian region is greater today than it was in the 1970s."

There is not a "strong ideological basis for freedom of the media in the islands, but it is the easiest and safest course, everything considered," said Fr. Francis Hezel, an American Jesuit priest who in the 1970s founded the Micronesian Seminar, a think tank based in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Hezel believes that the most important factor for governments in the north Pacific to support media freedom "is the reputation of the government itself. To withhold public information would needlessly tarnish the governments in the eyes of the United States and the world. Why risk such damage just to keep a lock on information?"

Hezel points out that most of the island nations don’t have much to conceal anyway. "Corruption in the Pacific has been vastly overstated, I believe," he said. "When compared with Nigeria, Russia, Indonesia, most of Africa and the Near East, and even New Jersey, Micronesians are pikers in the corruption game."

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