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Media In Constant Battle Over Press Freedom

Media In Constant Battle Over Press Freedom, Says

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MEDIA IN CONSTANT BATTLE OVER PRESS FREEDOM, SAYS PACIFIC WEEKLY

http://www.thepacificweekly.com

PORT VILA (Pacific Media Watch): Pacific news media is waging a "constant battle" against government pressure and sometimes within itself - but remains a vital barometer of the region's well-being, reports Pacific Weekly Review.

A six-page cover story on press freedom by the new Port Vila-based regional newspaper focuses on Cook Islands attempts to stifle scrutiny, the "big lies" of politicians over the Pacific solution on asylum seekers and the war on terrorism, and a bitter exchange between media commentators.

"In the Pacific, there is a general acceptance of the need for a free press, which can help in nation-building and in creating open and accountable governments," Pacific Weekly said in an editorial.

"But as the number of incidents detailed in our cover story this week indicate, it remains a constant battle. One problem is that because the Ombudsman in many Pacific nations is weak or ineffectual, the press is forced to become the main watchdog for government corruption."

In the process, said Pacific Weekly, it was the press that often came out of it with a "black eye", rather than the semi-government agencies and police investigators who were tasked with this responsibility.

"Journalists are far from perfect - they argue, probably drink too much, can be compromised and at times be overly sanctimonious," the paper said.

"They have a responsibility to report fairly, accurately and with balance. Yet in the Pacific, journos are usually poorly paid, sometimes poorly trained and often face crises when their responsibilities as a journalist comes into conflict with clan or kastom loyalties.

"The press remains our daily barometer of the well-being of our local communities and the rest of the world.

"In the 21st century, faced with war and globalised economic competition, access to quality information can be a matter of survival.

"Press freedom is everyone's freedom."

Pacific Weekly said that as delegates gathered for the annual New Zealand-based Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference in Auckland today and tomorrow, there was likely to be concern raised about several attacks on the press - "and sometimes within the media itself".

The paper said that in the past two weeks the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) had issued two "alerts", one for threats made against Cook Islands Herald publisher George Pitt by a government that had suggested "Zimbabwe-style" press restrictions.

The other alert called on governments not to use the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on freedom of expression.

Pacific Weekly also reported on a clash of views between PINA regional training planner Peter Lomas and Auckland University of Technology senior lecturer and Pacific journalist David Robie.

Lomas had criticised Robie and Solomon Islands journalist Duran Angiki over statements they made in papers on Pacific media freedom and control presented at a Public Right to Know conference in Sydney.

+++niuswire

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PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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