Tahitian Journalists Denounce Pressures, President's Speech

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

News Release

Club de la Presse Tahiti - Te taatira no te mau papa'i ve'a Association loi de 1901 Pape‘ete, French Polynesia clubdelapressetahiti@gmail.com http://www.facebook.com/cptahiti

February 1, 2105

Journalists representing print, radio and television media in French Polynesia have recently formed the "Club de la Presse Tahiti – Te taatira no te mau papa'i vea". The Club de la Presse has written an open letter denouncing the atmosphere of undue control and pressure that journalists in Tahiti experience on a daily basis, and asks local authorities to reaffirm their support of freedom of the press, an essential marker of true democracy.

The need for larger coverage of this initiative became obvious on January 21st, when French Polynesia's president Édouard Fritch delivered his New Year message to the media. President Fritch, despite assurances that "the Cabinet and I wish to act in the most transparent way," has implemented a rigid media relations system – all government communication must go through the presidency's press office or his special media adviser/speechwriter; ministers and department heads must obtain the presidency's permission to speak to the media.

He gave a clear description of what he thinks journalism should be: "We must beware, in my view, of giving too much importance to the politics/media hustle and bustle that undermine the necessary confidence Polynesians, business leaders and investors must have in the future of our country." Referring to the ongoing chikungunya fever epidemic, he stated: "We must beware of the impact of magnifying effects outside our small borders, and keep in mind that information blown out of proportion can have adverse effects on our economy, on our tourism." President Fritch apparently knows best what French Polynesians want and need: "… under certain circumstances, I also think that we should speak less often, so as not to feed useless controversies that our fellow citizens are not interested in." Instead, the media are invited to join his public relations effort, for instance, on the upcoming social security reform: "It's a fundamental issue and I would like you to treat is as such, so as not to give it solely factual, or even polemical coverage."

Following this condescending, directive and undemocratic display, The Club de la Presse Tahiti has requested meetings with president Fritch, president of the territorial assembly Marcel Tuihani Jr, and French high-commissioner Lionel Beffre, to engage dialogue on the conditions and spirit in which the Tahitian press has to work.

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