Vanuatu government and radio station in standoff | Pacific Beat

Vanuatu government and radio station in standoff

Vanuatu government and radio station in standoff

Updated 11 January 2013, 17:10 AEDT

A radio station in Vanuatu is defying government orders to cease broadcasting after the Prime Minister wrote to the station's management accusing it of breaking the nation's laws.

Sato Kilman alleges the radio station Capital FM107 has failed to renew its broadcasting licence since 2010 and committed several other breaches of the broadcasting act relating to poor journalism standards.

The government is ordering it to stop broadcasting until these issues are rectified.

But as reports, the station's management is vowing to continue business as usual while it seeks legal advice.

Presenter: Emma Younger

Speaker: Richard Kaltongga, advisor to Vanuatu's prime minister Sato Kilman; Richard Pamatatau, lecturer in Pacific journalism at Auckland University of Technology

(radio broadcast)

YOUNGER: This is the sound of Vanuatu's Capital FM107. A station familiar with reporting the news, now is the news. According to the government the station's been operating illegally since failing to renew its broadcasting licence when it expired in 20-10. Richard Kaltongga is the first political advisor to Prime Minister Sato Kilman.

KALTONGGA: FM107 does not have a licence to operate. Any business in Vanuatu or anywhere else in the world, if it doesn't have a licence to operate it's not allowed to operate. That's the law.

YOUNGER: As well as failing to acquire a licence, the government says the station has committed several other breaches of the broadcasting act. In a letter to FM107 penned by the Prime Minister, the Government's Broadcast Licence Advisory Committee has outlined 6 of these. Several apply to the station's failure to obtain a licence but additional concerns are also raised about poor standards of journalism. In his letter, Mr Kilman says there've been several incidents of journalists failing to report in a balanced and accurate manner. He says what's even more concerning is the broadcasting of what he describes as death threats on the station's talk back program.

KALTONGGA: People are being allowed to come on the air in response to discussions and the publics calling, making threats trying to incite people and the shows run in a manner that we have some grave concerns about.

YOUNGER: This latest letter sent by the Prime Minister is the third in a series. Concerns were first raised in 2011 and then again at the end of 2012 in letters delivered to the station's management. The government say they received no response to either of those.

KALTONGGA: We just received a letter which is dated the 27th of December 2012 from FM107 basically saying that they didn't receive the first letters which we found strange beacuse the letters were delivered by a messenger directly to the offices of FM107.

YOUNGER: Mr Kaltongga says the station is arguing the Broadcast Licensing Advisory Committee didn't notify them to renew their licence when it expired in 20-10. He says that's not a valid argument.

KALTONGGA: If somebody wants to run a business then the responsibility is on that person who wishes to get the licence to go and get the licence and not the issue authority.

YOUNGER: Capital FM107 has been ordered to cease broadcasting until the licencing issues are rectified. In a statement to Radio Australia, the station's manager Moses Stevens says they've taken the matter to their lawyers and are unable to comment until they receive further advice. Mr Stevens says they've been advised to continue broadcasting until the matter is resolved. Concerns have been raised that the government order is an attempt to infringe on freedom of the press. But Mr Kaltongga says it's purely a legal issue which the government has asked the police to investigate.

KALTONGGA: We are a society governed by laws and in this case with FM107, it does not have a licence to operate. Freedom of press or anything doesn't even come into it. They don't have a licence to operate and if they want to operate they should get their matters sorted out so they get a licence to operate and the law provides for that. Every other media organisation in Vanuatu, whether they're a newspaper or radio, they are subject to the same conditions and they are abiding to the alws here, they have no problem with it.

YOUNGER: Richard Pamatatau is a lecturer in Pacific journalism at the Auckland University of Technology. He says the issue shouldn't be muddied by debate about press freedom.

PAMATATAU: The allegation is it hasn't paid its licences and has been operating in an illegal framework and therefore for it to claim that it is being in some way shut down by the government seems to be on murky ground. It seems to me that the radio station needs to sort out its own business before it starts criticising other people.

YOUNGER: Mr Pamatatau says the government needs to work with the radio station to iron out the licencing issues.

PAMATATAU: What I think really needs to happen is for FM107 to sort out its governance matters and then for the government to talk to them to find out just where this point of tension is and maybe involve someone externally to mediate between the two because what I would hate to see is FM107 shut down completely without reason other than procedural.

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