Parliament approved amendments to the press law in October despite objections by the opposition and international press freedom bodies who saw it as an effort to stifle criticism of the government.
The so-called "Titabu Tabane" bill, sent to parliament on 30 May and approved on second reading on 7 October, allows the Newspaper Registration Office, whose head is to be appointed by the government, to shut down any publication against which a complaint was filed. It also requires media proprietors, editor and printers to publish nothing that "offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or be offensive to public feeling."
Published material must be presented with "due accuracy and impartiality" and when an article "contains matters affecting the credibility or reputation of any person," they must be able to respond in the same article. Defiance of these requirements or continuing to publish after cancellation of an operating licence will be recognised as an offence while persistence in this will draw a fine of 300 euros.
The government said the measure was to combat a growing number of "libellous pamphlets," but opposition politicians feared an attempt to gag them and said it was aimed at the country’s only independent paper, Kiribati Newstar, published by former President Ieremia Tabai, which competes with the government paper Te Uekera. The amended press law caused the media to water down its criticism of the government during the campaign for the 29 November general elections.
The government authorised on 14 December the opening of the country’s first independent radio station, FM 101. Its owner, former President Tabai, owner of Kiribati Newstar, had been asking for a broadcasting licence for four years.