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World Press Freedom Review
Overview of Australasia and Oceania
While media problems persist in this region of the world, the guiding principle that everyone has the right to seek receive and impart ideas and information is generally respected. Compared to other regions in the world, the threats to free expression in Australasia and Oceania are, happily, relatively minor.
MEDIA RELATIVELY FREE AND UNFETTERED
The Australian government did not relax cross-media and foreign ownership rules this year, despite the pressure exerted by media magnates, Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. The ownership of Australia’s untrammelled media is already among the most concentrated in the world.
Fiji has one of the freest presses in the region, however, some parliamentary members tend to react badly to some embarrassing reports. The biggest daily newspaper, The Fiji Times, was found guilty this year of a breach of parliamentary privilege for reporting on the cost of a senatorial meeting.
Reflecting a global media concern, New Zealand’s journalists are struggling with the privacy issue. Current legislation struggles to find an acceptable balance between rights relating to privacy and other rights relating to freedom of expression.
The reporting of suicide also continues to be a thorny issue in New Zealand, which has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world. The current laws restrict the media from reporting on specific cases for fear that the reports will encourage other people to follow suit.
Papua New Guinea has a robust and essentially free news media. Peace agreements in the secessionist war on the island of Bougainville have eased tensions considerably. There were, however, reports of intimidation of the media by government supporters.
The Samoan government made several efforts this year to curb freedom of information and expression. Opposition leaders remained barred from the government-controlled national radio and television services. Civil and criminal court actions against the country’s main independent news voice, the daily newspaper Samoa Observer continued. The Government also decided that the legal costs incurred by Government ministers and senior officials who sue the news media would be paid from public funds. Additionally, a Government minister was alleged to have made death threats against the assistant editor of a weekly newspaper.
Libel remains a criminal offence in the kingdom of Tonga and is used by sensitive officials as retaliation for critical reporting. An Agence France Presse reporter was refused entry to Tonga on the grounds that his reports insulted the King.
In Vanuatu, following disclosures by the Ombudswoman that leading politicians took large loans illegally from a national retirement scheme for workers, rioters temporarily forced the government-run radio and TV stations, Vanuatu Broadcasting Corporation, off the air. A journalist was assaulted and equipment was damaged. Reports of ministerial misconduct were not being carried for a time on the important local language service of government-owned Radio Vanuatu. Staff had been reportedly threatened by a prominent politician.
The small South Pacific island of Wallis was the scene of one of the year’s most dramatic moments for the region’s media. Angry villagers took over the RFO (Societe Nationale de Radio Television Francaise d'Outre Mer) television and radio stations which serve the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna. They briefly held hostage the manager and two editors. They occupied the stations and kept them off the air for seven days. The villagers were protesting RFO’s response to complaints other villages got more air time during coverage of traditional ceremonies, which are major events in these islands where culture and tradition are still strong.
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