11 June 2002


The government of Kiribati has introduced a bill which would give it more powers to shut down newspapers, a move the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) says is intended to stifle freedom of expression. If passed, the draft law would amend the Newspaper Registration Act prohibiting media outlets and publishers from printing anything that "offends against good taste or decency or is likely to incite to crime or lead to disorder or be offensive to public feeling," reports PINA. The amendment also requires them to present content with "accuracy and impartiality."

In addition, if an article contains information affecting a person's reputation or credibility, they must be allowed to respond in the same article. Media outlets that violate the provisions will be stripped of their registration licences; if they refuse to comply, they can be fined A$500 (US$286) for every offence, says PINA.

The government says the proposed law is meant to "defend the ordinary person from false and malicious reporting by newspapers, especially those that … operate more as free handouts or 'flyers' than as commercial newspapers." Complaints against the media will be directed to a Newspaper Ethics Committee which will recommend to government whether an outlet should be de-registered.

PINA says the introduction of the bill follows the launch of the island's first independent weekly newspaper "NewStar." Established by opposition politician and former president Ieremia Tabai, who says the bill is aimed at ensuring the ruling party's re-election in November, the publication now competes with the state-owned weekly "Te Uekera."

In 2000, Tabai attempted to launch Kiribati's first independent radio station but a court found him and a partner guilty of importing radio equipment and operating without a licence [see http://canada.ifex.org].">http://canada.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=5706">http://canada.ifex.org]." http://canada.ifex.org].">http://canada.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=5706">http://canada.ifex.org].

For more details, see www.pinanius.org.">http://www.pinanius.org">www.pinanius.org.

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