Wilkie Rasmussen: MPs should allow free media

Tuesday June 30, 2020 Published in Letters to the Editor
Terepai Maoate Jr in Parliament. 20061811 Terepai Maoate Jr in Parliament. 20061811

Dear editor,

The reaction by MPs to the Cook Islands News article is petty and dismissive of an integral part of our community and democracy.

The anger from them indicates people still unfamiliar with the media’s role of keeping an eye on the Executive part of Government, in this instance from abusing public funds and public resources.

It is also to ensure that they as elected officials do not fall into the trap of thinking they are immune from scrutiny.

Cook Islands politicians have always been very sensitive about being reported in the media. They all think it should be all about glorifying, saying good things about them, their hard work as they see it and praising them. Frankly, that's known as propaganda.

A free media is to report on the pros and cons, events or issues of interest and value to the public.

In this case the Cook Islands News reported a query by Terepai Maoate Jr, Deputy Leader of the Democrats, to the government in the debating chamber in Parliament about spousal allowance.

I also clearly heard his utterances of such allowances for indicating pocketing such allowances. It is in the Hansard.

Now there's a surge by him on radio in the newspaper to negate what he said even to the point of volunteering a pay cut. He could have done the pay cut several months ago when his leader Tina Browne announced her desire to have her pay cut by 15 per cent.

MPs Sel Napa and Agnes Armstrong followed suit – now Mr Maoate is riding that wave as a reflex action. Doing it now does not convince me or the people of it being genuine.

Parliament should leave the media be, to report for the people.

What is worse is that the Speaker has been given the task of adjudicating and ruling on it.

It is like handing over to the Speaker a majority view by the Government and the Opposition, in which the Speaker will find hard to rule against. Why would she rule against those that elected her to the position especially when they are all united on an issue?

This is sad and another example of the decay of our democratic principles. An example of MPs retaliating against public scrutiny. Even worse, other media practitioners have remained silent and have not stood for free press because they are on the Government or Opposition payroll.

Years ago Dr Terepai Maoate, father of Terepai Maoate Jr, proposed to legislate for state control of the media.

I was in government then and I fought hard to block it and let the media  self-regulate. Pitt Media was in there fighting against legislation. I have not heard a word from them on this one.

It was charged with setting up the Media Council but it was never sustained. However that failure should not distract the Government and Opposition. The media can self-regulate. There are precedents to follow.

I hear the Government now want to set up a Media Council. Goodness me, in the midst of the biggest global crisis with Covid-19, Cook Islands is debating this nonsense.

There has to be better things to focus on, so just leave the media to have its place in Parliament to report on the affairs of this supposedly august House.

Yours truly,

Wilkie Rasmussen.

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