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PNG: Call To Reject Govt Reporting Shackles

National editorial: Reject Govt Reporting Shackles

PORT MORESBY (The National Online/Pacific Media Watch): The Papua New Guinea government is taking a dangerous step with a batch of newly announced restrictions on journalists.

Acting Information and Communications Minister Patrick Pruaitch has stated that journalists seeking to cover the state of emergency in the Southern Highlands province now need formal accreditation issued by a "media liaison sub-committee" located in the minister’s department at Somare Haus.

Mr Pruaitch maintains that the moves have been taken for "the convenience of reporters, photographers and cameramen".

Further, the new requirements are "intended to ensure that the operation of the state of emergency is given positive reporting both by the national and international media".

It is not the function of the free media to "give positive reporting" as demanded by any government, private company or individual.

Those are the duties of political spin doctors and public relations gurus.

It is the responsibility of free media to ensure accurate and unbiased reporting, be that supportive or critical.

The two roles have nothing in common.

It might be argued that journalists should carry some form of accreditation with them while on duty in the Southern Highlands. A simple card with a photographic identification is all that is required, one that could readily be issued by media organisations to their own staff.

That is a very long way indeed from what Mr Pruaitch apparently intends.

The issuance of what can only be seen as "permits" to journalists before they can write is an ill-advised and ominous step on the part of the government.

It formally establishes a level of control over what journalists may or may not write, and gives no indication of how long that control would apply.

It is clear that members of the media would be shackled in terms of freedom of movement within the SHP, and worse still, their stories would be subjected to some as yet unstated form of Government censorship before they can be filed.

There is no other way that the acting minister could “ensure positive reporting” of the state of emergency.

Such an action flies in the face of the freedoms guaranteed to the people and the media under the Papua New Guinea Constitution.

There has been an on-going situation – one that has been freely and faithfully reported – that has mirrored various levels of corruption and administrative ineptitude in the SHP.

Now all journalists, domestic and foreign, have been cast in a most unfavourable light.

The inevitable impression given is that without restrictions and "monitoring" they would all go into the province hell-bent on stirring up trouble and mis-reporting to suit their own or others’ agendas.

As far as domestic journalists are concerned, that is nonsense, as every sound-thinking leader well knows.

The only people who need fear open and unfettered coverage of events in the SHP are those with secrets they would rather not have revealed to the public.

What benefit could PNG journalists conceivably reap by creating false negative coverage of a situation such as that current in the SHP?

Assuming that the imposition of the state of emergency is justified, and that those who are tasked with implementing its provisions are performing their functions honourably and efficiently, the only stories likely to come out from the SHP would continue to supplement the already favourable media response to the Government’s initiative.

The people of the SHP have every right to accurate and unbiased coverage of the events in which they find themselves involved.

And the national Opposition has a similar right to access uncensored and truthful reporting.

That cannot be provided by a neutered media.

Only at times of declared war would a PNG government have the clear right to impose some degree of control over the media, in the interests of national security.

In the case of the SHP, there is no war in the accepted sense, posing issues of espionage and security.

Nor is there a great natural disaster of the kind that recently struck New Orleans in the USA.

It therefore, seems unnecessary to further add to a recent tendency to hold court cases in camera and to bar the media from resource company briefings of landowners.

For more than 30 years, PNG has proudly waved the banner of freedom of information.
The price of that freedom is permanent alertness.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region.


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