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Cook Islands: Media Ethics and Codes of Conduct

For immediate release Sunday 13 February 2011

Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS -- Pacific journalists and government information officers have had a sombre wake up call on media ethics and codes of conduct; after mainstream newspaper the Solomon's Star decided to name the source of a controversial 'intelligence report' leaked to them by the Prime Ministers press secretary Alfred Sasako.

The press secretary to Prime Minister Danny Philip says he leaked the report to the Star as part of a confidentiality agreement. The Star says he also handed over a press article by himself, bylined as a 'special correspondant' and had been keen to see that feature as the coverage of the leaked report. The daily newspaper had refused to run the article as is and its journalists took on the story and subsequent news coverage into the reports allegations. They also named Sasako as the source of the report Follow up stories have focused on a series of responses from those the report mentions, highlighted errors of fact and lack of evidence; and raised questions over who wrote it.

The Solomons Star stands by its decision to name Sasako, citing his position and agenda, and the political and diplomatic repercussions of the reports allegations. The editorial decision as well as Sasako's own intentions have drawn unprecedented debate on a regional media online discussion group for Pacific journalists.

"PFF expresses concern over the clear attempt of a public official in a position of power to manipulate and subvert the news agenda of a leading media outlet in the Solomon Islands given the current political situation there. We appreciate the difficulty that the Solomons Star had in deciding to out him as the source of the report. But media codes of ethics protect the confidentiality of sources and are one of the most critical tenets of journalism practice," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of PNG.

"Material from confidential sources has to be put to the test of verification to avoid manipulation of the news or public opinion and while journalists should always be aware of the agenda guiding the provision of material from sources, they should be made aware they will be named, or be given the choice to have their information returned. We urge our media colleagues to apply codes of ethical practice in all situations, to clarify what to do in terms of checking the veracity of so-called reports, and dealing with confidential sources."

High level diplomatic meetings between the Solomon Islands government and RAMSI to defuse the impact of the report have been held -- but to date there's been no gathering of media practitioners to clarify what took place and ensure it doesn't happen again.

"MASI is one of the strongest national media associations in the region and we look to its leadership and solidarity for inspiration and guidance in clarifying this matter -- especially for young journalists watching the issue play out within the industry," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller.


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