The Pacific Freedom Forum has warned that legislative amendments passed by the Vanuatu Parliament could be used to attack journalists who publish critical reports on politicians and government policies.
This statement was originally published on Pacific Freedom Forum’s Facebook page on 3 May 2021.
It has come to the Pacific Freedom Forum’s attention that the Vanuatu Parliament has recently passed a bill amending their Penal Code Act.
The amendment to the Bill for the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. of 2021 stipulates that Threatening language, Criminal Libel and Criminal Slander on any public platform could warrant a criminal offence and offenders could face three (3) years imprisonment.
While we understand that the amendments are directed at reducing abusive, false or threatening speech on social media, the bill could equally provoke media freedom violations if and when journalists criticise or call out politicians and/or public servants when reporting on said public platforms.
PFF’s Melanesian Co-Chair, Robert Iroga, said, “The passage of bills is a real concern for freedom of expression as it now instills fear in people who have genuine concerns to raise against the government. Such laws should not be used to silence the majority and we urge the government to reconsider its decision.”
This amendment came on the eve of World Press Freedom day – a day that serves as a reminder to governments of their commitment to press freedom. This year’s theme is “Information as a public good.”
We would like to respectfully remind Vanuatu’s Parliament that it is vital for the public to have access to reliable information and the right of the media to disseminate information without fear of favour.
“Press freedom must not be undermined by any legislation [nor should such legislation be] used as an excuse to shut down the media’s role to hold officials accountable for their actions as public servants,” stated PFF’s Co-Chair, Bernadette Carreon.
The Pacific Freedom Forum is concerned that these legislative amendments may be a breach of Article 19.