Pacific Media Watch

24 June 2020

COOK ISLANDS: MPs seek to ban political editor for story exposing travel perks

The Cook Islands News MP allowances article that caused a stir. Image: Cook Islands News screenshot/PMC

By Sri Krishnamurthi, contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch
AUCKLAND (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Centre): Cook Islands Members of Parliament want to ban a journalist from Parliament for what they claim was inaccurate reporting over them seeking travel perks in the House.

They have asked the Speaker, Nikki Rattle, to withdraw senior Cook Islands News journalist and political editor Rashneel Kumar after he wrote an article published on Friday titled “MPs seek allowance top-ups in downturn“.

Pacific Media Watch reports that in his opening sentence he stated that there was “public dismay” at MPs using House sitting time to raise the question about spousal allowances for travel.

READ MORE: Links to the Cook Islands News editorial and travel perks stories

The article reported on main opposition Democratic Party MP Terepai Maoate Jnr’s questioning of payment of his spousal allowance entitlement, and asking whether outer island MPs living in their constituencies were entitled to the same privileges as those living on Rarotonga.

“Maoate Jr MP from Aitutaki, used one of their Parliamentary questions to seek payment of a spousal allowance, which he said was already appropriated in the last Budget,” Kumar reported.

“A concerned member of the public, watching the session live on Parliament’s Facebook page, asked if the question was of national concern,” he wrote giving the headline used in the article credibility.

By yesterday, the article was a major talking point for all MPs with Deputy Speaker in the House, Tai Tura, raising a question in Parliament about the article.

‘A bit mad with the newspaper’
He said he was “disappointed and a bit mad with the newspaper” for tarring all MPs with the same brush for suggesting they had the intention of increasing the allowances.

And then the question: “Can we try and get these reporters out of Parliament for false information to the public?” he asked Prime Minister Henry Puna.

Puna’s Cook Islands Party is a minority government supported by independents; the DAP is the opposition.

However, the Prime Minister agreed that the Cook Island News article was accurate and factual.

“I beg to differ, it’s really pointing a finger at all of us here at this House that we are seeking a top-up or an increase in our allowance,” he was reported as saying.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the media is responsible in their reporting of our proceedings in this House without sensationalising anything that they report. Because that headline certainly achieves that.”

After a motion declaring the article “incorrect and unfair,” they then agreed that the Speaker should decide whether Cook Island News journalist Rashneel Kumar should be banned from Parliament for some time as determined by the Speaker.

Covid-19 not the priority
In his editorial in Monday’s Cook Islands News, editor Jonathan Milne lamented about the unity of MPs who came together seeking the withdrawal from Parliament of the journalist rather than fight covid-19.

Additionally, he stood by his journalist, saying his reporting on Parliament was accurate.

“To be clear: Cook Islands News stands by its reporting of Parliamentary questions about MPs’ entitlement to their spousal travel allowances. Our report was fair, and it was accurate – one need only check back on the recordings of Parliament to recognise that,” he says in his editorial.

Milne is a highly respected former editor of Stuff in New Zealand before he moved to the Cook Islands.

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons