Pacific Media Watch

4 July 2015

VANUATU: Kilman plans media law to curb 'excessive liberty'

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Prime Minister Sato Kilman ... critical of talk back radio “extreme statements” and online "social anarchy". Image: Pacific Scoop

Glenda Shing
PORT VILA (Vanuatu Daily Post/Pacific Media Watch): Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman is looking at introducing a law to regulate media.

The head of the government reportedly said people were taking “excessive liberty” and putting out what he characterised as “extreme statements” on talk back shows and the Yumi Toktok Stret Facebook group “are inciting social anarchy, instability and disorder in the community”.

During a meeting with Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation’s general manager Fred Vurobaravu, who is also the National Broadcast Regulator, PM Kilman stated that the new Media Regulation Bill, currently in draft form, must go before the next session of Parliament for approval.

The new Media Regulation will cover issues such as “cross-media ownership and procedures to discipline a media organisation which is in breach of the regulatory requirements”.

The prime minister’s comments came following what the government termed as indecent comments aired in radio talk back shows and intemperate comments on the social media.

Kilman has warned broadcasters that if talk back shows on radio and exchange forums on Facebook are not controlled and continue to defame leaders, he will not hesitate this time to take stronger actions to as far as use all means to close down the operations of the radio and social media.

While the Prime Minister reiterated his support for "freedom of media and expression", he warned that media owners and the public must not take these words literally.

Level of respect
There should be a considered level of respect for media responsibility and the rights of others, the Prime Minister reportedly told VBTC.

He said Vanuatu was a small community and if used wrongly, the media could easily destabilise the social peace and order.

VBTC, as the mouthpiece of the government, was asked by the PM to take the lead in bringing back a disciplined life in the Vanuatu society instead of constantly stimulating instabilities through talk back shows and other public forums.

“Let’s put an end to this nonsense,” PM Kilman instructed VBTC, after consulting the State Law Office this week, seeking advice on cases of misreporting and defamatory statements against him on newspapers, radio shows and internet.

New Daily Post media director Dan McGarry expressed sympathy for the Prime Minister and others, but cautioned against overreacting.

“It’s clear that some individuals have expressed disrespectful and threatening comments on social media and on the airwaves.

“But you don’t help public discourse by shutting it down.”

Reasonable steps
McGarry suggested that there are reasonable steps that can be taken short of legislation.

“If something is clearly libelous or inciteful, we already have the legal means to deal with it.

“But the best way to improve the civic discourse is to lead by example. We need more talk, not less.”

Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones echoed these sentiments, adding, “I’ve dealt with every prime minister since independence and this is the first time any one has attempted to control independent media through legislation.

“If that were to happen, the negative publicity for Vanuatu would be catastrophic.”

Meanwhile, the issue has been raised on social media and attracted a lot of critics from the general public. One commented that Vanuatu is a democratic country and people have the right to express their opinions.

Another person said PM Kilman, being a leader, should humble himself and accept criticism.

Circulated draft
VBTC’s Vurobaravu has assured the PM that the draft law will be circulated before the end of the week for final deliberations before it is submitted for government official approval and parliamentary ratification.

In a separate statement issued late yesterday afternoon by the Prime Minister’s Office, the government said “irresponsible reporting and character assassination by journalists and social media respectively, is developing into a norm”.

The warning in the statement was that the government headed by PM Kilman will “not hesitate to support responsible legislations to control the media”.

The prime minister said media freedom must not be abused because it is detrimental to nation building.

He said media ethics that warrants a reporter to obtain balance when a person or leaders’ name appears in a story is paramount.

Kilman continued that the use of profanity in the media, particularly social forums, is distasteful to the community and a country that prides itself as a Christian country.

“My government will ensure that its institutions like the police will investigate any criminal intent regarding social media reports and urge the state law to draft legislation to control inhumane practices,” the Prime Minister said.

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Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons