26 Jul 2016

Calls for better access for media during Pacific polls

7:42 am on 26 July 2016
The Chamber of Parliament, Nauru

The Chamber of Parliament, Nauru Photo: Supplied

A group fighting for media freedom in the Pacific said election observers need to prioritise free and fair access to the media as they monitor elections in the region.

The Pacific Freedom Forum said two groups of observers judged Nauru's recent election free and fair despite a de facto ban on foreign media and curbs on the opposition.

The Forum's Jason Brown said it was strange the election observers' first reports failed to mention the lack of foreign journalists covering this month's polls.

He said there appears to be a major gap in the observers' understanding of the role of the Fourth Estate.

"It's a check and balance which goes beyond borders. It's ethics without borders if you like. A diversity and pluralism in media, whether it's a national election or local affairs, is a strength not a weakness."

The Pacific Freedom Forum said it was also concerned that observers from the Pacific Islands Forum made only a single passing mention of local media in their interim report.

Mr Brown said the leader of the Commonwealth observers group to Nauru, Anote Tong, later downplayed the lack of access to public media saying campaigning is different in small communities.

"What we're saying is, in a small country like Nauru, like our Pacific states, even the bigger ones, we're all closely connected and people may not feel comfortable, let alone confident, of asking their elected representatives hard questions, especially the ones who happen to be in power."

Mr Brown said the PFF hoped the final observer reports covered the media angle and offered a more sceptical and deeper look at what constituted a free and fair election.

But he said past experience showed the reports tend to "name-check" the importance of the media alongside other important issues like gender rights.

"What we're saying is the media is the main avenue for these issues to be raised and should thus take a higher priority."

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