By Josephine Latu - Pacific Media Watch
Fiji and Tonga have the least free media among Pacific Island states, according to Freedom House’s just released 2009 annual report on global press freedom.
Fiji was ranked 85th out of a total of 195 countries - dropping from 80th last year, while Tonga maintained its rank at 73rd.
Along with East Timor (78), they were the only countries in the region to be categorised as only “partly free”. The rest were free.
New Zealand and Palau enjoyed top status in the region, tying at 11th spot worldwide. Last year New Zealand ranked 8th and Palau at 12.
Both were rated to have higher press freedom than Britain (27) and Australia (38).
The Freedom House ratings were calculated based on three criteria - the legal environment in which the media operates, the political influences on reporting, and the economic pressures of distributing news.
The rankings are based on information gathered about 2008.
Fourteen Pacific Island nations were included in the report and were ranked out of a total 195 countries: New Zealand (11), Palau (11), Marshall Islands (21), Federated States of Micronesia (33), Australia (38), Vanuatu (43), Papua New Guinea (53), Tuvalu (53), Kiribati (59), Nauru (60), Samoa (63), Solomon Islands (66), Tonga (75), and Fiji (84).
The report also stated that after two decades of progress, press freedom is now in decline in almost every part of the world.
Only 17 percent of the world’s population enjoy free media in their countries, although key trends showed that threats to media freedom are evident even in established democracies.
The report stated that media freedom remained “fragile” in emerging democracies, and that authoritative governments were increasing their control over media. Also, restrictive laws and physical attacks continued to hinder press freedom around the world.
However, Freedom House reported that compared to the rest of the world, the Asia-Pacific region as a whole boasted a relatively high level of press freedom.
At the same time, it underlined that Fiji media suffered from “official pressure”, which caused its decline in ranking, and cited the deportation of two foreign national publishers and the Fiji Times held in contempt for publishing “unflattering letters about three judges”.
The recent media censorship crackdown under Fiji’s military regime is expected to pull the nation’s ranking down even further in future.