Report – By Pacific Media Watch
Police today visited the offices of the Kiribati Independent newspaper which has been publishing for two weeks in defiance of state orders to halt publication until registered.
But the fortnightly newspaper published in Tarawa, Kiribati – with an online edition in Auckland, New Zealand www.thekiribatiindependent.co.nz – has been trying to be registered for almost six months.
International media freedom organisations have protested over the failure of authorities to register the paper under the Newspaper Registration Amendment Act 2004.
The New Zealand-based Pacific Media Centre has again criticised the “heavy-handed” approach and political agenda by authorities against a newspaper which has reportedly carried critical stories of the government in the past.
“It is time to drop the policy of harassment and obstruction and for local authorities to welcome diversity in the news media,” said centre director Professor David Robie.
Publisher and editor Taberannang Korauaba told Pacific Media Watch the police who visited the Kiribati Independent office had said today they were acting on a complaint from the Ministry of Communications.
Police took a statement from newspaper distributor Borerei Uriam in Tarawa.
Korauaba, a former PMW editor and a prominent i-Kiribati diaspora publisher and community leader, provided documents from the publisher and printer, Maria Printers, to the ministry when the newspaper was launched last December.
The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières media freedom advocacy organisation wrote to the ministry last month, appealing for the newspaper to be allowed to publish.
“Five months after the application was submitted, the matter is still under consideration,” RSF told the ministry in the May 25 letter.
The Kiribati Independent’s publisher and editor, and the printers, had subsequently filed affidavits on April 2 reaffirming their publication details.
“Kiribati Independent staff have told us, however, that they were forced to shut down in March as a result of an order from your ministry to cease publication until registration was completed,” RSF said.
“On 18 May, your office extended the ban without giving any reason for the delay in processing the application.
“Although the law does not specify a time limit, five months strikes us as an unusually long wait and amounts to a significant impediment to the newspaper’s activities.”
RSF noted that the Kiribati Independent publishers believed – on legal advice – that they had the right to continue publishing pending registration.
The media freedom group added that “selective application of the laws appears to bear out Mr Korauaba’s fears that the real reason behind the order to halt publication and the delay in registration is a desire to muzzle the Kiribati Independent at birth”.
On June 1, the Kiribati Independent resumed publication in defiance of the ban.
On June 6, editor Korauaba told Pacific Media Watch: “Our lawyer has responded to the Communications Ministry advising them that Kiribati Independent is not in breach of the law and if they believe so they must proceed with prosecuting the publisher.”
Source: 7987 Pacific Media Watch