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PFF calls on military regime to relax stranglehold on media as Fiji Media Council chooses new leader

(PFF/IFEX) - The transition of leadership at the Fiji Media Council (FMC) will come to nothing if the military regime does not relax its stranglehold on free media and free speech in Fiji, says regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF).

The PFF praised the contribution and effort of FMC's inaugural chair Daryl Tarte and the voluntary energies he put into the role for more than a decade. PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea says Tarte's recent resignation should provide impetus for renewed focus on the 2009 review of the FMC.

"As the review points out, the role of an independent complaints process for the public needs to be promoted and enforced in a timely way. For that to happen, the military regime should take heed of the review findings and get their censors out of Fiji's newsrooms. A free media council relies on a free media and a freely speaking public to do its job well," said Laumaea.

"We encourage whoever takes up the task of leading the Fiji Media Council through a challenging time to be there as a watchdog for media standards, and use every opportunity to convince the military junta that the media should be seen as a partner in getting Fiji well and truly on the way back to full democratic rule.

"In a region as diverse as the Pacific, setting up a media council from scratch and getting it to the stage where partners are prepared to put in money to fund its operations is a major achievement, and it is just so ironic that such a well thought out review could not have come at a more challenging time," Laumaea added.

The comprehensive review relied on interviews and public submissions and was done by Jack Herman, Suliana Siwatibau and Barrie Sweetman.

Co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa, says the gap left by Tarte is a critical make or break time for the FMC in terms of attracting a person able to meet the standards and demands set by the review and the outgoing chair.

"What the review process and public submissions have shown is that a media council is something many believe in. As a neutral and trusted link between media houses and a public complaints process, it is a key function that needs everyone's support.

"Pacific nations keen to encourage public feedback and responses to what's published by news outlets would be well advised to look into their own media councils and apply the lessons learnt during Tarte's time with the Fiji Media Council, and the review report." said Miller.

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