Behind every rule, regulation, sign, code and law lies the power of the French state, limitless.
Judge-shopping is an alleged motive behind attempts by the French state to transfer a defamation case some 18,000 kilometres from Pape'ete to Paris.
That and the opportunity to stifle freedoms of speech. News of the transferral came as a shock to Tahiti Pacifique publisher Alex du Prel when he opened a letter demanding his attendance at an investigatory court. On the other side of the world. Holding the letter, du Prel might have been forgiven for doubting his grip on reality. In the summons, Court officials helpfully suggest options for train routes on the underground Paris metro. A long - long - way from catching a train anywhere, du Prel is in fact where he usually is - 19,000 kilometres south west of the Eiffel tower, sweating in the heat of an island newsroom, tropical magazine covers mushrooming across ceiling and walls. "I do not even have a tie," he laments in a rambling press freedom alert. Five pages of testimony later, the Mo'orea media man trails off into footnotes, somewhat apologetic, clearly dismayed, still defiant. "Yes, JPK was assassinated." Puffing on Bison tobacco, paint-strippingly strong, du Prel published that headline earlier this year. Previously he doubted the death of former Pape'ete editor Jean-Pascal Couraud was indeed murder. Bashings; torture even, yes, but more than that? No. "Not assassination, not even Flosse. If the agents are not trained properly, maybe they make a mistake and they go too far," he said in December 2006. By January 2007, however, the publishing veteran was publicly backing rumours that French trained agents planned the kidnapping, torture and killing of JPK, lashing four concrete blocks to his unconscious body, dropping him into waters 3,000 deep. Headlines in his Tahiti Pacifique magazine attracted a complaint of defamation, laid by a French gossip columnist with backing from state lawyers. She later denied accepting 680,000 euros from their boss, former president Gaston Flosse. Already suffering a heightened sense of unreality from decades of corruption associated with countless billions in nuclear test money, du Prel studied his letter with disbelief. "On 1st September we received a fax from a grand dame of the investigatory court, commanding we submit ourselves to her offices, in Paris, on 10th October at 9 am, (indicating which metro station!) so they could examine us over our article." "I was sentenced to start a trip, to Moorea, Tahiti, Los Angeles, Paris (and back), a journey that can not be finished in less than four days because it represents a trip of 38,000 km with a minimum of 46 hours in the air at a cost of about 4,000 euros, nearly nz$7,000. " Expenses would include "airplanes, taxis, restaurants, hotels in Tahiti, and Paris, where I do not know anyone; buying warm clothes, and so on." End result of losing a case against the State? "The skin off my ass," asserts du Prel, predicting that the cost of attending even preliminary hearings in Paris would kill off his 17 year old magazine. Starting in 1990, Tahiti Pacifique is a monthly with a circulation around 6,500 copies in French Polynesia and around the world, the closest thing to an independent voice in a territory deeply corrupted by nearly fifty years of nuclear colonialism. Of those billions, at least us$70 million ended up in a French bank in Japan, under the names of Gaston Flosse and Jacques Chirac. "Tahiti-Pacifique is seen by these people as responsible for the fall of the great Gaston - thanks for the compliment. In order to ensure a glorious return to power of 'brother Chirac', it is necessary to shut down this little, overly-independent news organisation." Even proven right, impossibly high legal fees and other expenses means du Prel loses everything as soon as the case opens in Paris.
"If these proceedings are on their terms, convicted or acquitted, it will guarantee the demise of our publication," says the Tahiti Pacifique editor.
Previously, du Prel fought off numerous court actions from various Flosse administrations himself. On one occasion, du Prel won a ruling from the administrative tribunal to allow him back into press conferences he had been banned from by Flosse.
Facing down seemingly limitless might of the state, du Prel taught himself arcanery of French press laws to keep his magazine alive.
No chance of similar success in the guilded halls of Paris, among black robed practitioners operating at "forensic" levels of French law, fully funded by the French state, snootily silencing a citizen enjoying his constitutional rights to the utmost.
Short story: du Prel loses, we all lose.
Corporate cronyism will have finally rid one of the few remaining voices of credibility from the region, and a rare source of independent analysis.