5 May 1999


PINA calls for Vanuatu prime minister to act against media intimidation

Incident details


PINA/IFEX - PINA has urged Vanuatu Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas to take
immediate action against the intimidation of the local news media, and
specifically the current pressure on the independent newspaper "Vanuatu
Trading Post". PINA deplored the physical assault on "Trading Post"
publisher Marc Neil-Jones and the verbal intimidation of the newspaper and
its staff. PINA totally condemned statements made by Vanuatu's Deputy Prime
Minister Willy Jimmy, called these disgraceful, and urged Prime Minister
Kalpokas to do likewise.

**Updates IFEX alert of 29 April 1999**

PINA president William Parkinson said: "Vanuatu has made great strides in
recent years with regards the development of a free and independent media.
These recent events represent a major setback and we call on the Prime
Minister on behalf of the people of Vanuatu to take immediate action to
protect freedom of the media in Vanuatu." Parkinson referred to a statement
in which Deputy Prime Minister Jimmy accused Neil-Jones of wanting to make
an issue out of a "minor assault". Jimmy accused Neil-Jones, who is British,
of being a "racist" with a "neo-colonial mentality towards all indigenous
Melanesian people." He also accused Neil-Jones of always wanting to write
stories about the country's leaders to "make sure that his newspaper is sold
out to make money for his bread and butter." He accused Neil-Jones of being
the "mouthpiece" for the country's Ombudswoman, who has issued a number of
reports condemning the conduct of Vanuatu leaders and politicians, including
Jimmy. "Someone will have to pay the price of this democracy one day soon,"
Jimmy warned. "I hope that Neil-Jones gets the message and keeps it well in
his white colonial mentality brain. Vanuatu cannot continue to tolerate such

Background Information

News organisations in Vanuatu have faced intimidation and threats from
Deputy Prime Minister Jimmy and his supporters, the "Vanuatu Trading Post",
reported on 29 April 1999. It stated that on 25 April, a former business
associate of Jimmy assaulted "Trading Post" publisher Neil-Jones. Punches
were thrown at Neil-Jones and he was attacked with a chair before security
guards in a nightspot restrained his assailant. Neil-Jones was talking to
Jimmy at the time but Jimmy was not involved in the attack, the newspaper
said. Neil-Jones filed an assault charge and alerted the country's
independent Ombudswoman, the report stated.

The "Trading Post" said that it subsequently received a telephone call with
a blunt message from Jimmy, through an associate, stating that his name was
not to be mentioned with the news of the assault, otherwise the place would
be smashed up and there would be problems. Peter Sali, a political advisor
to Jimmy, also visited the "Trading Post" office, accompanied by the police,
to deliver a message from Jimmy stating that his name was not to be
mentioned. The "Trading Post" said that the Ombudswoman is looking at the
allegations of threats to the newspaper. The Ombudswoman had advised that,
unless the police were laying formal charges, they should not be issuing
warnings to anyone on behalf of politicians.

Staff from the government's Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation
have also reportedly been intimidated by people associated with Jimmy, the
"Trading Post" said (see IFEX alerts of 16 March, 13 February and 13 January
1998). It also said that a non-governmental weekly newspaper, "Nasara",
which it described as being owned by the "opposition", had reported threats
and intimidation.

Vanuatu is the former joint British and French-ruled condominium of the New
Hebrides. Following independence in 1980, its news media were largely
government controlled. But in recent years a growing independent news media
has emerged, led by the "Trading Post". The newspaper has reported a number
of political scandals involving Jimmy.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the prime minister:

  • urging him to condemn the assault on "Vanuatu Trading Post" publisher
    Neil-Jones; and also the statements and intimidation by Deputy Prime
    Minister Willy Jimmy - urging him to take immediate action to protect media
    freedom in Vanuatu

    Appeals To

    The Honourable Donald Kalpokas
    Prime Minister of Vanuatu
    Fax: +678 22863

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Pacific Islands News Association
    Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
    Private Mail Bag, Suva
    Fiji Islands
    pina (@) connect.com.fj
    Fax:+679 3317055
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