12 May 2004

Cook Islands government takes action over satirical letter

4:05 pm on 12 May 2004

The Cook Islands government is taking action over a satirical piece, printed in the form of a letter in a local newspaper, questioning its One China policy.

The Crown Law office has filed an application in the high court for leave to take a case of criminal libel against George Pitt, the owner of the Pitt Media Group's Cook Islands Herald newspaper.

This follows the publication of a satirical letter, purportedly signed by the prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, on the opinion pages and labelled as entertainment for readers.

It contained supposed comment on his recent trip to China, thanking the premier for aid, an assurance there had been little reaction to the recognition of China as the owner of Taiwan and how people get hung up on invasions.

The prime minister's adviser, Norman George, says the decision to pursue criminal libel was not an easy one to make but the Pitt Media group has been antagonising government for the last two years.

"It's directly aimed at the prime minister, and actually the government and the people of the Cook Islands. And, it's been decided that because the Pitt Media Group have hidden behind the umbrella of the media world which protects each other whenever there is action taken, we feel that in this case, the government of the Cook Islands is the victim of an overzealous and offensive media group."

Norman George.

It's not known when the High court will release a decision on whether the case can be pursued.

The head of the Cook Islands Pitt Media group says the government is clutching at straws by pursuing court action over the printing of a satirical letter.

George Pitt says the government can't take a joke.

It's almost like if anyone says something that they disagree with, they try to shut them up in some way. We've been threatened and we've got a defamation summons to appear in court, they've threatened us with our licenses. It just goes on and on and on but this latest episode is just ludicrous. It's like government is clutching at straws. That's the type of government that we currently have to live under.

George Pitt of the Pitt Media group.