13 February 1998


Vanuatu Ombudswoman says reports being kept off air

Incident details


(PINA/IFEX) - Vanuatu's Ombudswoman, Marie Noelle Ferrieux Patterson, says
the important Bislama language news service of government-owned Radio
Vanuatu is no longer carrying her findings of misconduct by government
ministers. She says her office has tried unsuccessfully to meet the news
editor of Radio Vanuatu to discuss this.

** Updates IFEX alert dated 13 January 1998**

The reports which Ferrieux Patterson claims are not being carried are on
findings of sexual misconduct by a cabinet minister, improper efforts by
government members to get a pardon for a Korean fugitive, and the alleged
involvement of Prime Minister Serge Vohor in improper issuing of passports
to Chinese persons.

In response, Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation chairman
Kalvau Moli, a former journalist, said Ferrieux Patterson's reports carried
mostly allegations. Moli thought it was important to also include the
comments of those named in the reports before any news item was broadcast.
The controversy comes as Vanuatu prepares for a general election in which
corruption and abuse of public office are major issues.

In a letter to the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation on 11
February 1998, Ferrieux Patterson said: "Radio Vanuatu has not carried the
last three public reports issued by this office on its Bislama news. All of
these involved serious allegations and findings made against certain
cabinet ministers. These reports were carried by the Trading Post and
international media. It is curious to us as to why you took the decision not
to carry these on Bislama news. Your avoidance of meeting with us to ask
you this very question also deepens our concern that you are acting in a
censorious fashion."

Ferrieux Patterson says her office contacted Radio Vanuatu news editor
Evelyn Toa to try to arrange alternative appointments after Toa allegedly
had not kept appointments. They were twice told she was not available
because she had to meet with Prime Minister Vohor.

The Bislama news on Radio Vanuatu is the main source of news for most in
Vanuatu outside of the capital, Port Vila. Bislama is the common language
of Vanuatu's people and the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation
operates the country's only radio and TV stations. For many years
journalists working at Radio Vanuatu told of government interference in the
news. In recent years, however, Radio Vanuatu has operated with much more
freedom. This coincided with changes in government and the return of an
experienced broadcaster, Joe Carlo, as general manager of the corporation.
However, Carlo recently resigned and left the corporation so he could stand
in the general election.

Background Information

Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation's radio and television
stations were temporarily forced off the air on 12 January 1998 by rioters
who warned staff not to send out news about rioting in Port Vila. The riot
followed growing tension over the disclosure by the Ombudswoman that leading
politicians improperly took loans from the Vanuatu National Provident Fund.
This is a national scheme in which workers and their employers contribute to
a retirement fund for the workers.

Ferrieux Patterson was presented PINA's Pacific Freedom of Information award
for 1997. She was honored by PINA for her fearless work to bring into the
public domain questionable practices by people in public office despite
efforts to stop her. PINA's award citation praised her efforts to make sure
her findings continued to be available to the news media, and in turn the
people of Vanuatu.


Pacific Islands News Association
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Fiji Islands
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