2 February 2000

Alert

Ombudsman supports newspaper's right to report


Incident details

newspaper(s)

censored

(PINA/IFEX) - In a 1 February 2000 report, Vanuatu's "Trading Post" newspaper said that the country's ombudsman supported its right to continue publishing news about a fatal local ship sinking in 1999. Ombudsman Hannington Alatoa voiced concern over an attempt by the government to "gag" the "Trading Post" from publishing further news on the sinking, in which twenty-seven people died, the newspaper said. It added that the ombudsman also shared concern over the government's delay in releasing the official commission of inquiry reports on the sinking of the MV Latua and the fatal crash of a local airline's Twin Otter aircraft in August 1999.


After the "Trading Post" obtained and published details from the report on the sinking, it was warned by both the minister for Ni Vanuatu business affairs and the Prime Minister's Office, the newspaper said. The minister for Ni Vanuatu business affairs, John Robert Alick, "strongly" warned the newspaper not to publish any more news because he said it was affecting the settlement of insurance payments. This was then endorsed by the Prime Minister's Office, the newspaper said. Government media spokesman Jeffrey Lauha was quoted as writing to the "Trading Post" and saying: "The question the Government is now focusing on is what right has the 'Trading Post" to publicise the Commission of Enquiry report on MV Latua?" An investigation was being carried out into how the newspaper had obtained the report, he said. He added that such "delicate issues" as the report should be handled in the "proper perspective." He accused the "Trading Post" of causing conflict between families of victims, government, insurance companies and ship owners.


"Trading Post" publisher Marc Neil-Jones then wrote to the ombudsman complaining about the efforts to stop the newspaper from publishing further news on the sinking. In a 26 January reply, Ombudsman Alatoa said he did not think a full investigation was warranted, but added: "I share your concern about the constitutional right to freedom of expression in general and I appreciate the freedom of the press and other media is an essential part of freedom of expression which the constitution says we are all entitled to." He said he would write to the minister for Ni Vanuatu business affairs telling him of the constitutional provisions on freedom of expression. The ombudsman agreed that the insurance claims "will be decided without reliance on information disclosed only in your newspaper."




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
Vanuatu
 
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