Vanuatu Daily Post carried news of the
release of a journalist from the rival
newspaper Vanuatu Independent on its
front page. Photo: PFF screen grab
PFF | Rarotonga | Cook Islands
Charges of terrorism laid and dropped against a journalist in
over a Facebook comment need
independent investigation, states the Pacific Freedom Forum. Vanuatu
“A Facebook comment alone cannot possibly constitute terrorism,” says PFF Chair Titi Gabi.
“Governments of the day must not use terrorism laws against freedoms of expression, no matter how robust, rude, or just plain wrong.”
“At the same time, media must ensure they use freedoms responsibly and try to avoid comments that could be misconstrued”, says Gabi.
Vanuatu Independent sub-editor Gratien Mulsoul was arrested this week by police after lawyers for the prime minister wrote police a letter complaining he had threatened cabinet by wishing their plane would crash into the sea.
Despite no official complaint being laid, senior police arrested Mulsoul under terrorism and sedition laws.
However, after 30 hours in jail, Mulsoul, also known under his other surname Tiano, was released when the Public Prosecutor at the State Prosecutions Department ordered charges be dropped.
PFF welcomes news of the decision by the Public Prosecutor, currently in counterpart training with an Australian policing consultant.
PFF co-Chair Monica Miller says controversy over the Facebook comment reflects broader concerns across the region about the role of social networks.
“It is immensely encouraging for PFF to see dozens of comments in the Vanuatu Facebook group thrashing out issues surrounding this arrest and what it means for the still emerging practice of using social networks.”
police must ensure that any arrest
is well-founded or risk making a false arrest,” says Miller. Vanuatu
“In the absence of anything other than a Facebook comment, the laying of terrorism and sedition charges must themselves come under scrutiny.”
PFF accepts there are public safety concerns to free-running debates that get out of hand online, and calls for clarity and caution from all news media participating on social networks, like Facebook.
Mulsoul wrote the comment in the biggest Facebook group for
, Yumi Toktok Stret – Straight Talk with more than 10,000 members – allegedly
praying for a plane to crash. Passengers on the plane consisted of ministers
returning from a cabinet meeting held outside the capital, Port Vila. Vanuatu
Vanuatu Independent editor Tony Wilson told Radio
the Facebook comment was one among
jokes that popped out of a serious debate, questioning the threat to national
security of having an entire cabinet on a single aeroplane. Australia
Commentators on YTS said the “crash” comment was nothing more a common joke used as a punch-satirical line in all sorts of debates.
Miller welcomed news from PFF members about the setting up of a Media Complaints Council in
“Along with plans for a Pacific Media Ombudsman, this would help the
government in handling media
complaints instead of resorting to the arrest of journalists which risks
leaving the Vanuatu government in a bad light.” Vanuatu
PFF calls for independent review of the process by which
police make an arrest when dealing
with freedoms of expression. Vanuatu
'Storm in teacup' blows over
Media Asosiesen blong Vanuatu | Code of Ethics
Un journaliste ni-Vanuatu arrêté pour des commentaires sur Facebook
PFF Chair Titi Gabi | Freelance Journalist | Papua New Guinea | +67573143929 | firstname.lastname@example.org
PFF co-Chair Monica Miller | KHJ Radio | American Samoa | + 6842584197 | email@example.com
PFF coordinator Jason Brown | Pasifika media | Aotearoa, New Zealand | +642102484560 | firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT PFF :
The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.