Dan McGarry: Freedom of speech comes with responsibility

Taxi row in Port Vila ... buses and taxis line the wharf road, waiting for a cruise ship to arrive. Image: Dan McGarry/Vanuatu Daily Post

Julian Ligo recently published an online piece purporting to tell the “real” story down at the wharf, in which Port Vila Efate Land Transport Association (PVELTA) executive member Ronny Noal claims that “the media is to be blamed for this mess”. He claims, “at no time did any of the drivers throw a rock at the Adventures in Paradise bus.”

The Vanuatu Daily Post has seen more than half a dozen individual statements that chunks of wood and rocks were thrown at the vehicles, that bystanders—presumably other drivers—were shouting “stonem olgeta!” (“Stone them!”) and laughing as the tour vehicles full of bewildered tourists ran a gauntlet of angry drivers.

Mr Noal seems to have forgotten that the buses were blocked by a PVELTA official, who tried to stop the stoning, but waved the buses on when he realised the situation was out of control.

Our staff have received reports from bus drivers present at the scene who state that stones were thrown at the vehicles.

We called Adventures In Paradise and they confirmed that stones were thrown, vehicles were damaged and that criminal complaints have been submitted.

Julian Ligo’s so-called journalism, on the other hand, seems to consist of a single conversation he had with one single person whose motives or memory are questionable, to say the least. He tries to paper over the fact that other vehicles were stoned and damaged as well at the wharf that morning, and for this too we have incontrovertible evidence.

His claim that we made no attempt to contact the PVELTA is false. We were already working on a story about problems at the wharf, and had been trying—unsuccessfully—to reach them for some time. Immediately after the news broke, we tried once again to call, SMS and email, but with no success.

Correct the record
The PVELTA has had numerous opportunities to correct the record. Until this dubious tale was told to Julian Ligo, not a single word was said.

The association was copied into the official correspondence that followed the incident at the wharf. To our knowledge, they never objected to the way the events were described.

I met with the president of the PVELTA on the same morning this scurrilous tale was being compiled. Massing said nothing to me to about our version of the events. I sat with him again just yesterday, and still he did nothing to deny that stones were thrown that morning.

Julian also claims that the Daily Post has not presented “both” sides of the wharf story. He clearly hasn’t read our paper. In every news item and editorial, we clearly contextualised the outbursts and underlined the difficulties that local transport drivers have been facing for some time.

But all of this is losing the forest for the trees:

A woman was kidnapped, threatened and beaten. This is the story that Ronny Noal and Julian Ligo are trying to distract us from.

The Daily Post didn’t stone anyone’s vehicle. The Daily Post didn’t abduct and beat a helpless woman. The Daily Post wasn’t involved in thuggery. The Daily Post is the one that shone a bright light on these shameful events.

For months now, there have been a series of violent incidents, disturbances, assaults and intimidation on the wharf, all of them attributed to bus and taxi drivers. Mr Noal knows better than to dispute that.

The Acting Harbour Master has stated that members of his security staff were assaulted several times. We have received reports of citizens being assaulted and their vehicles stoned on other occasions as well.

Today, PVELTA president Donald Massing has done the right thing and apologised to the public for the shameful actions of a few out-of-control individuals.

Mr Noal and Mr Ligo need to apologise too. They need to apologise for doing the very thing they blame the Daily Post for: Inciting anger and intolerance against others.

But more than anything, they need to apologise to Florence Lengkon for trying to imply that the responsibility for violence against women lies with anyone but the perpetrators themselves. They should be ashamed. Ms Lengkon—and the people of Vanuatu—deserve better.

Dan McGarry is media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post. This editorial was published in the newspaper today.

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