At a time of unprecedented concern around the world about reduced public access to accurate, impartial and verified information, this meeting of Pacific members of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) reaffirms the importance of media and journalistic freedom.
Media freedom is essential in participatory democracies. It empowers media organisations to report without fear or favour and to hold power to account. It allows the media to act faithfully as the fourth estate, and builds trust among audiences. It reduces the risk of misinformation and fake news.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. In marking the occasion, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, noted the watchdog and public interest role of the media had never been more important to public accountability, transparency and good governance. He added: “Together they ensure engaged, active and informed Pacific citizens. This level of empowerment sets the basis for a Pacific future that is safe, secure and peaceful.”
We acknowledge and applaud the work undertaken by media partners in the region to promote media and journalistic freedom. We encourage more media partners to actively support and reinforce independent, accurate and impartial reporting.
As we gather in Port Vila, we note the decision by the Vanuatu government this year to adopt the Broadcasting and Television (Amendment) Act, which ensures the editorial independence of the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation (VBTC) from government and commercial interests. It also ensures the Corporation is able to develop and achieve the highest degree of professionalism and governance and that all internal processes, procedures and mechanisms relating to the Corporation’s functions reflect high standards of transparency, efficiency and accountability.
We also note the decision by the new Fiji government to repeal the 2010 Media Industry Development Act (MIDA). The Fijian Media Association says: “MIDA came about after a reign of terror and violence where journalists were beaten, detained and threatened, their media businesses burned, offices trashed and houses firebombed. The legislation brought with it further intimidation, censorship and fear to the country’s media industry.”
In our discussion of key industry issues in Port Vila, under the auspices of the ABU’s Pacific Media Partnership Conference, we have agreed on the importance of striving for further progress. This includes raising awareness about the damage and risks caused by blocking media access to information. The withholding of information is as threatening to democracy and good governance as misinformation.
We therefore announce a shared Pacific vision that is underpinned by the importance of the role and responsibilities of national broadcasters, and a renewed and confident declaration of our commitment to media and journalistic freedom.
This vision calls on media organisations to:
• be diligent in identifying threats to media freedom
• raise staff awareness and understanding about the importance of media freedom
and the nature of breaches
• develop protocols for reporting incidents that threaten journalistic freedom
• work together in formulating a response to threats to media freedom
• work with media partners and organisations such as the ABU, to build resilience and
further develop global support networks
• actively support the development of public policy that enhances our ability to
provide accurate and impartial information, and enables our audiences to fully
participate in public discourse and democratic processes.
Furthermore, we urge all Pacific island governments to adopt legislation enshrining the independence of national broadcasters.