Sunday, 12 February 2012

Palau: President urged to lift gag rule on AG

Pacific Freedom Forum, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS-- A presidential order banning Palau's Attorney General Ernestine Rengiil from giving her legal opinion directly to those seeking raises serious concerns over access to information and freedom of information for the island nation, says regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

 The order, issued on January 27 now bans the Attorney General from issuing a legal opinion on any matter unless it is specifically authorized by the President or his Ministers. Under the Executive Order, the AG now has to confer with President Johnson Toribiong or a Minister on all requests. If a green light is given, the legal analysis still has to go back to the President with copies to the Ministers for final clearance before it can be provided to the person or group who first requested it.

"Controlling and restricting how the public's leading expert on the constitution can communicate with the people of Palau not only ends a well-established relationship for public access to the office of the AG, but now leaves all pending questions hanging,"says PFF chair Titi Gabi of PNG.

"Journalists wanting to have a quick legal insight into news of the day are not the only ones who will be affected by this ban. It's a blow for the right of Palauans to know what their elected leaders are
doing and we urge President Toribiong to reconsider his decision and reconsider the impact of this executive order, and revoke it,"

The lack of an explanation for the gag order raises questions around timing. National elections are set down for November 6.

The ban comes in the wake of questions from news broadcaster OTV regarding Palau's political campaign law. Current campaign laws provide for equal airtime between privately owned radio and TV for candidates. OTV had sought a legal opinion clarifying how the law applies to Senator Alfonso Diaz, a former journalist who runs talk back and promotion of his policies for several hours from his privately owned Radio Diaz station each morning, without similar access for other political candidates.

"The media ownership and campaign questions were relevant and all in a days journalism, but now Palau's voters may never have the answers -- or because of the vetting process involved, may not know until after the elections," says PFF co chair Monica Miller.

"Our media colleagues in Palau share the common situation of their journalism family across the developing Pacific. The office of the Attorney General can often be the only information link for sharing accurate legal information with the public on how their elected leaders are applying the rule of law. Gagging the Attorney General robs people of their right to know, and opens up room for speculation and misinformation." --ENDS  

CONTACT: PFF Chair Titi Gabi | Freelance Journalist | Papua New Guinea Mail: PO Box 7776, Boroko, NCD, Papua New Guinea | Mob: (675) 7314 3929 | Email: PFF co-Chair Monica Miller | KHJ Radio | American Samoa Mob 684 258-4197 | Office 684 633-7793 | Email: The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.

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