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Julian King: Journalism PNG Style

Journalism PNG Style

by Julian King

What would you do if you were a journalist and you were conducting this interview? Five minutes into the interview a car drives up and five men get out of the car approach you and the person you are interviewing. They ask the man you are interviewing his name - when he responds - the five men are angry and start calling him names - they call him names because they take an opposite view to the one the person you are interviewing takes.

The five men then tell the person you are interviewing to get into the car. He refuses. They continue to abuse him finally picking him up and forcing him to get into the car. When they get the man in the car they continue to abuse him and they threaten his life. You, the journalist witness all this. It unfolds right in front of your eyes. You didn't have to go looking for the story - the story came to you. You think you got yourself quite a story don't you?

Not if you're in PNG and not if your name is Kevin Pamba. This unbelievable scenario played itself out last Tuesday in Madang Province, PNG. To make it even more unbelievable Mr. Pamba got in the vehicle and witnessed all the events that took place. Before we continue lets back up.

On the morning of November the first Simon Warr a landowner from the Rai Coast had scheduled a meeting with Kevin Pamba a journalist working with the National newspaper in PNG. Mr. Pamba is also a lecturer at Divine Word University (DWU).

Simon Warr wanted to talk to Mr. Pamba about his (Simon's) views of the proposed Ramu Nickel Mine. The previous Monday (31 October) Mr. Pamba had written a column that carried a pro mine bias. Simon Warr is a spokesperson for those landowners who are questioning the mine and its plan to dump 100 million tons of waste into their bay. Simon Warr was mentioned in the column. Mr. Pamba had painted Simon and his views in a less than flattering light. A time was agreed upon and at 9 o'clock in the morning Simon met Kevin Pamba at the DWU Library. The two meet as scheduled and five minutes into the interview the five men approach the "journalist" and Simon.

The story unfolds as described above. Simon is now in the vehicle with five hostile men and Kevin Pamba. They drive around Madang with the five men both physically and verbally abusing Mr. Warr. They eventually drive to the Madang headquarters of Highlands Pacific Ltd. - the proposed mine's developer who have recently entered into an agreement with the Chinese government sponsored China Metallurgical and Construction Corporation (MCC) to develop the mine.

When arriving at Highlands Pacific the men get out of the car with Simon. While at the Highlands Pacific HQ Simon is bashed, his life threatened and is told to retract his statements against the mine. Simon refused. During this time Kevin Pamba also contributed to Simon's ordeal by telling Simon he was really causing a lot of trouble by opposing the mine. After over an hour of more abuse, threats and bashing everyone got back into the car, including the journalist and headed back to Divine Word University where the interview began nearly two hour before. Simon got out of the car with Kevin Pamba. Steven Saud, the Chairman of the Coastal Pipeline Landowners Association accompanied them. Mr. Saud and a David Tigavu the chairperson from the Kurumbukari were the apparent insitgators in the ordeal with Mr. Tigavu threatening Simon's life on several occasions.

And how does Mr. Pamba write this up two days later? He takes the side of the kidnappers, those who threaten the life of a man - makes, the poorly written, article appear as if Simon was at fault and mentions that some of the landowners "roughed-up" Mr. Warr.

When contacted by an Australian based investigator on 3rd November, Pamba admitted he had witnessed the kidnap and assault but was vague on the details while HP manager Andrew Semi admitted that an incident had occurred at the HP office and that Mr Warr had been "released" after a number of hours detention.

So what is Mr. Pamba's story? Simon Warr's friends and relatives think Kevin set Simon up. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. When trying to figure it all out one must take into consideration that Mr. Pamba works for the National newspaper. The National is owned by the notorious Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau. Most people in PNG know this and refer to the National as the Daily Log. Could Kevin just be carrying out orders from the bosses at the National?

Whatever the reason Kevin Pamba has shamed both himself and his profession. We who still believe in the integrity of the media everywhere are disheartened by this story. If this story was in coming from Australia rather than PNG we could expect swift action, but in PNG one never knows. Mr. Pamba has been reported to the PNG Media Council. The Media Council only acknowledged they received the complaint and would be looking into it. We'll see what they come up with.

In the mean time Kevin Pamba will still be teaching journalism to students at Divine Word University!


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