I’m going to start with the disclosures. Dan McGarry is my friend. We have worked together as colleagues in the past and my contributions to the Daily Post and Buzz FM in recent years have been at his invitation and with his encouragement.
So the recent news that the government is trying to force his departure from Vanuatu for what they feel is negative reporting makes me sad. It makes me sad for him, for his family, and for the many friends he has made in the last 16 years.
But it also makes me sad for Vanuatu. I have been quick to point out to people who would rubbish our country that we have a strong track record of upholding the rule of law and that we take pride in being a strong democratic country. There are things that have been achieved in this country in relation to good governance that others around the region have looked at with admiration. “If only we could be like that” is a refrain I have heard from colleagues in other Pacific island countries.
This blatant attack on media freedom cannot go unchallenged. There will be statements of concern and possibly condemnation from outside. But the biggest voice needs to be that of those of us who are citizens of Vanuatu. We need to make it clear what we want and expect from our leadership. The role of a free and independent media is central to the operation of a true democracy. If media freedom is threatened and undermined, democratic culture cannot be maintained.
We have heard recently that some people are concerned about the influence of foreign ideology on the way we do things in Vanuatu. In a democracy, moves to limit media freedom should be considered foreign and they need to be resisted. Countries such as the People’s Republic of China may have achievements they can point to that we in Vanuatu would like to emulate. Autocratic rule and the suppression of civil and political rights should not be among them.
The push to remove Dan McGarry from Vanuatu needs to be seen and named for what it is. It is a threat to the whole of the media industry in our country. It is an erosion of the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy as citizens of a democracy. It does not measure up to the standards of leadership the people of Vanuatu expect and deserve. It undermines our credibility in the Pacific islands region and in the wider world.
As we move towards elections, hosting the Pacific Islands Forum and graduation from LDC status in 2020, let’s not have ‘country that attacks media freedom’ be what Vanuatu is known for.