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Cook Is: Broadcaster Calls For 'Due Process'

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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA (Avaiki News Agency/Pacific Media Watch): Media leaders in the Cook Islands have maintained an "extraordinary" silence on reform proposals by government and proposed freedom of information legislation, says Florence Syme-Buchanan, industry representative on the government Broadcasting Council.

"There are wide-ranging and comprehensive media laws up for discussion," says Syme. "So far, however, there has not been one response from either of the two main groups."

Both groups have been involved in a so-called "media war" for the last seven years.

Syme says industry leaders on both sides are ignoring media reform laws in the hope they will go away.

"As an industry, the media has lead calls for reform," she said.

"And yet when it comes time to make any changes, it seems our media organisation can be as deaf and blind as some of our politicians."

After taking on the role of deputy chair, Syme also took on a contract for the Cook Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

This contract included looking into re-establishing a public radio broadcasting service, proposals for industry reform and freedom of information laws and media training. Syme has also been given the responsibility of drafting national media policy.

"I've contacted all local media, stressing that we have this fantastic opportunity to decide what shape we want our media policy to take, and almost no one has given me feedback."

"This is so very, very disappointing."

She insists this role does not compromise her standing as an independent journalist and industry representative.

"As an industry representative I have been left completely uninformed as to how interested parties feel towards these proposed laws and the content of national media policy.

"In the absence of any feedback, I have attempted to negotiate in good faith with government on behalf of the industry."

She compared the lack of industry response with 1995, 10 years ago, when the media industry united to fight the former Media Standards Bill.

"What has happened to that unity?

"It is becoming increasing apparent that all sides of the political spectrum now have a clear approach over the last seven years of favouring one media group over another."

This approach is not without precedent around the world.

"Over and over again, however, political meddling in media has failed to improve standards or governance."

Syme called on all news media companies to end conflict-of-interest positions within governments-of-the-day.

"As a media consultant and independent journalist, I have not allowed my contractual obligations to government influence my advice to the board.

Syme said government needs to call another industry meeting to nominate a replacement for her on the broadcasting board.

"If the industry cannot trust each other then they should agree on someone else from outside the industry who understands the workings of the media."

She hopes the industry does not respond to her calls with more silence.

If the news media industry fails to act, Syme warns they may end up with laws they do not like.

"It's no use running crying to government after laws have been passed." +++niuswire


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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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