Vanuatu's Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Trading Post Ltd, the owner of Daily Post newspaper, BUZZ FM96 and other media properties, in a case against the government's refusal to renew the company's former media director's work permit.
Dan McGarry, who served as a director of the company when he had his visa revoked in 2019, said the ruling was a "big win for independent media".
McGarry's work permit application was rejected by the then Prime Minister Charlot Salwai's government.
The reason given by the Labour Commissioner Murielle Meltenoven at the time was that McGarry's role - who at the time had lived and worked in Port Vila for 14 years - could be taken up by a ni-Vanuatu person and that he had failed to train his local staff.
The Daily Post claimed that the decision to revoke McGarry's visa was made after the newspaper had published stories concerning the arrest and arbitrary deportation of a group of Chinese nationals, some of whom had been granted Vanuatu citizenship.
McGarry and the company claimed that Meltenoven's decision was a political one and argued that the government had no right to meddle in their lawful hiring decisions and appealed the decision.
The issue had escalated and he was barred by the government from returning to the country, a decision which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, March 28, Justice Dudley Aru ruled that both the Labour Commissioner and the Appeals Committee acted unlawfully in barring McGarry's employment.
"After three long years, I feel vindicated," McGarry, who testified in the case, said in a statement.
Some happy personal/professional news: The Daily Post has won its case against the government for blocking my work permit back in 2019. It's a bit late for me, as I've moved on, but it's a critical rebuff to governments who use bureaucratic measures to stifle media freedom pic.twitter.com/SRrlRJl17Y— Dan McGarry (@dailypostdan) March 30, 2023
"Sadly, it took so long to get justice that I had to move on to other work, but this is a crucial principle that had to be defended."
The use of bureaucratic measures to meddle in private business decisions and stifle our free and independent media is unacceptable in a free and democratic society," he said.
"I'm grateful to the owners of the Daily Post and to all my colleagues and friends there who have never wavered in their stalwart defence of our right to chart our own course," he said.
"This is a big win for the Daily Post, and a big win for independent media in Vanuatu."
McGarry said it was not known whether an appeal is forthcoming.
RNZ Pacific has contacted the Vanuatu's labour office for comment.