Melanesia: New report highlights increasingly hostile media environment

A new report, released in the Pacific Journalism Review on July 31, highlights the growing need to address media freedom in the region, particularly in Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and West Papua. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about the ongoing media repression and urges governments across the region to uphold journalist rights.

Student protest against the racism in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua on August 19. 2019. Credit: Gusti Tanati/Jubi.

The Pacific Journalism Review (PJR) has partnered with the Melanesia Media Freedom Forum (MMFF) and Griffith University in bringing together wide-ranging responses discussed at a MMFF seminar in Brisbane, Australia, in December 2019. The IFJ contributed to these discussions.

The violations highlighted in the PJR include the case of Dan McGarry from the Vanuatu Post who was denied permission to re-enter Vanuatu after taking part in the MMFF discussion in Brisbane.  According to the PRJ, this heralds a “troubling future for press freedom”. McGarry claimed that Prime Minister Salwai had him personally reprimanded for alleged ‘negative’ coverage.

In Fiji, the journal finds that the legacy of the countries former military dictatorship continues to constrict media freedom under Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. It states that there is a culture of self-censorship in Fiji due to the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree that established a state-controlled Media Industry Development Authority.

The journal also reveals that the 2019 election of Prime Minister James Marape in Papua New Guinea has not guaranteed media freedom despite the countries press being removed from the “dictatorial grip” of the former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Journalists in Papua New Guinea still “lack real agency in reporting to the local communities”. The government also attempted to suspend senior journalist Scott Waide for airing a story critical of the government in 2018, and successfully fired Neville Choi for ‘non-compliance’.

The status of media freedom in Indonesian-occupied West Papua is a major concern as freedom of expression and the press continues to deteriorate. Nearly all foreign media have been banned from entering the country and local journalists walk a “thin line between compliance and press freedom”, like Jubi editor Victor Mambor, the journal stated.

The IFJ said: “Across Melanesia, journalists are finding themselves under pressure largely because of restrictions imposed by their own governments. The IFJ stresses the importance of a free and independent media, for fair, balanced and quality reporting and calls on governments in the region to uphold the values of press freedom.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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