The sword of Damocles in the South Pacific: Two media regulatory case studies
Constitutional guarantees of free speech and media freedom are well established 'on paper' in most South Pacific nations. How these gurantees are interpreted is constantly a source of tension between policitans, media practicioners and constitutional advocates. Recent attempts by two countries in the region, Fiji and Tonga, to introduce draconian legislation have partially successful, provoking international condemnation. In Feburary 2003, a series of five bans on the Auckland-published Taimi 'o Tonga newspaper led to conflict between the island kingdom's Supreme Court and the Privy Council. This eventually provoked controversial consitutional changes that were adopted on October 16 in spite of unprecedented protests. These changes, in the form of the Media Operators Act 2003, Newspaper Act 2003, and Act of Constitution of Tonga (Amendment) Act 2003, are expected to effectively ban the paper for good and, according to some legal analysts, may end the rule of law. In Fiji a draft Media Council of Fiji Bill was made public in May 2003 and submissions were invited. However, the proposed law stirred a strong reaction from the media and civil society groups as being 'unconstitutional'. This article examines and analyses the debate over self-regulation and public accountability of the media versus state control in the South Pacific.
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