The Cook Islands is a parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean made up of 15 islands.

Spanish explorers reached the islands in the 16th century before British navigator James Cook discovered the islands in 1773 and gave the islands their name. The Cook Islands became a British protectorate in 1888. In 1901 the New Zealand government annexed the Cook Islands, as the country had no federal statutory law to oppose or agree to the annexation. Cook Islanders who were British subjects gained New Zealand citizenship in 1948 with the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act. Access to citizenship and New Zealand government services continues today and many Cook Islanders live in New Zealand. The New Zealand protectorate was offered self-governing status by its ruler in 1965. It now has a free association with New Zealand who takes responsibility for its defence and foreign affairs. The Cook Islands is not a full member of the United Nations but increasingly has its own diplomatic relations with countries.

As a representative democracy within a constitutional monarchy, the head of government is the Prime Minister (currently Henry Puna) who is chosen by the 24 members of parliament. The country’s ultimate head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who is represented in-country by the Queen’s Representative, the Governor General of New Zealand.

Tourism is the country’s main industry. Offshore banking, pearls, and marine and fruit exports also form sectors of the economy.

Media and Communication Landscape

The media and communication environment in the Cook Islands is unique in the context of the Pacific Region. Find out more in the PACMAS State of the Media and Communications Report: Cook Islands

Policy and Legislation
• The Prime Minister is responsible for broadcasting and telecommunication portfolios.
• The Broadcasting Act of 1989 covers the provision of commercial and community broadcast licences.
• Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution.
• The Cook Islands is the first country to pass FOI legislation in the Pacific.
• The Telecommunications Act of 1989 is tailored for Telecom Cook Islands.

Media Systems
• Technicians are not formally connected to any particular media association or support network, but often
call on people in their own personal and professional networks.
• Several companies have plans to upgrade network infrastructure (Telecom, private radio station).
• There are reportedly plans to upgrade to broadband internet and to enable connections across all islands.
This project is a major priority for most of the people interviewed.
• There is currently no formal emergency communication plan for broadcasters, but radio broadcasters have some basic awareness of the role of radio in an emergency.

Capacity Building
• There are some innovative programs in Cook Islands, including a media studies course for Form 6 students
at the local Tereora College. Many media outlets offer internships/cadetships to graduates.
• All media and communications organisations in the Cook Islands find that access to funding limits training opportunities, with the exception of Telecom, which has a budget but no appropriate opportunities.
• The national media association, Cook Islands Media Association, is not fully functional despite numerous efforts to revive it.
• Very few media professionals have tertiary qualifications.

• The largest media company, Elijah Communications, has a particular interest in climate change issues.
• The primary challenge in reporting on climate change is translating technical terms into local languages.
• The Ministry of Health makes strategic and regular use of media in its campaigns and health promotions.
• Media outlets report covering NCD issues.

Any opinions represented in the PACMAS State of Media and Communication Report 2013: Cook Islands are those of the authors and research participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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