9 December 1999


Two individuals fined over bid to start non-government radio

Incident details

Atiera Tetoa, Ieremia Tabai

On 8 December 1999, the directors of the company trying to set up Kiribati's first non-government radio station were each fined a total of $A35 (approx. US$23) in the Magistrates Court in Bairiki. They were former Kiribati President Ieremia Tabai, 49, and a former Radio Kiribati programme manager, Atiera Tetoa, 51, the directors of Newair FM 101. They pleaded guilty to importing radio communication equipment without a licence and establishing, maintaining or working at a radio station without a licence, a PINA report from Kiribati said.

The report said their lawyer told the court Tabai and Tetoa had been advised by a lawyer that it appeared they did not need a licence and they had been in regular contact with the relevant authorities while setting up the station. They had not been told they had to have the licences
until October 1998, when they began test broadcasts, the court was told. The lawyer said: "The accused in setting up Newair FM do so with the motivation of benefitting the people of Kiribati. They believe that an alternative and independent radio station that is not government owned and run can only enhance Kiribati as a democratic nation. They believe that their treatment so far can only be viewed as politically motivated due to the fact that both accused are members of the opposition party and intend to air the views of the opposition party (and others) on their station. The accused believe that it is more than a coincidence that the filing of the charges and the subsequent refusal to grant them the broadcasting licence coincided with the national election held in November of that year."

The lawyer said the licence still had not been granted despite extensive correspondence. He appealed to the court to discharge Tabai and Tetoa without a conviction as it could be used against them in their application for a licence. However, Magistrate Tabakitoa Temoku said
ignorance of the law is no excuse and imposed the conviction and fines. Under Kiribati's Telecommunications Act, the maximum fine that could have been imposed was $A200 (approx. US$128) on each charge and forfeiture of equipment. The court was told that the Attorney-General's Office had conceded that this was not a case where forfeiture of the equipment was appropriate.

Background Information

At present the Kiribati government-owned Broadcasting and Publications Authority operates Radio Kiribati and publishes the central Pacific country's only newspaper, the weekly "Te Uekera". Tabai says that the government does not want him to start an independent FM radio station and newspaper in this atoll nation with a population of about population 84,000. Tabai returned to Kiribati after being secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, an inter-governmental organisation of independent and self-governing Pacific Islands nations plus Australia and New


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