Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has voiced its concern about draft media legislation currently being examined by the Kiribati Parliament. "This legislation would inevitably put a brake on the development of an independent, private media," says Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders. The organisation for the defence of press freedom has written to the Attorney General, Titabu Tabane, asking him to withdraw the draft proposals and amend the law to make it more liberal. "If this legislation is adopted, it will stand in total contradiction to the Constitution of your country, which guarantees the freedom of the press and of expression," adds Mr Ménard.
According to information obtained by the organisation, the government presented draft legislation amending the law on the compulsory licensing of newspapers to Parliament on 30 May 2002. The "Titabu Tabane" text in fact makes it possible to close down any publication against which charges are brought. It also requires newspaper owners, editors and printers not to publish anything which "offends good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling". The content of any published material must comply with standards of "due accuracy and impartiality". If an article "contains matters affecting the credibility or reputation of any person", the person in question is allowed the right to reply under the same heading. Any publication that does not comply with these conditions, or that continues to operate even if its licence is withdrawn, will be considered to have committed an offence. If this continues, the offending publication will be liable for a further fine of
€ 300. The agency responsible for licensing media publications will be authorised to order the closure of any publication as soon as it receives notification that charges have been brought against it.
The government’s initiative follows in the wake of the launch of Newstar, the Kiribati Islands’ first independent weekly paper, published by an opposition Member of Parliament, Ieremia Tabai. The politician, who heads up this direct competitor to the government weekly Te Uekera, had also planned to found the archipelago’s first independent radio station, and has already clashed with the authorities. On 5 June, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) reported that the government had issued a press release denying that the draft legislation was directed against Newstar. The government’s aim was above all to "defend the ordinary person from false and malicious reporting by newspapers, especially those [...] that operate more as free handouts or ’flyers’ than as commercial newspapers".