PNG Newspaper Accused of Story Fabrication
The front page story that angered Papua New Guinea's Pinoy migrant community. Image: PMC
By Pacific Media Watch
A senior journalist on the Malaysian-owned National newspaper has accused the rival Rupert Murdoch daily Post-Courier of “fabricating” a front page lead story claiming 16,000 alien Filipinos are living in Papua New Guinea.
The story was splashed by the Post-Courier on November 10 under the banner headline: “16,000 ‘aliens’” plus a subheading declaring “More than 80 per cent of Filipinos living illegally” in Papua New Guinea.
In an extraordinary attack on the Post-Courier in his regular blog Letters from Port Moresby and republished on the media blog Cafe Pacific, Filipino journalist Freddie Hernandez claimed the 10,000 Pinoy community living in the country had been put at risk by irresponsible and unethical journalism.
Tension over a perception that illegal immigrants, particularly from Asia, were taking jobs reserved for PNG nationals erupted in anti-Chinese rioting in May.
According to the Post-Courier’s report, the Philippines Ambassador, Shirley Ho-Vicario, had testified last Friday, November 6, before the Parliamentary Bipartisan Committee probing the riots when she “purportedly revealed the existence of 19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal”.
The committee is seeking to establish what triggered marginalised Papua New Guineans to go on a rampage, looting variety shops and groceries owned and operated by Chinese in the Highlands and in Port Moresby.
However, Ho-Vicario denied having been present at the parliamentary hearing, making any statement or being interviewed and has rejected the figures as being totally wrong.
“How did the Post-Courier come up with these figures?” she asked, according to the Hernandez account.
“This is pure fabrication!” she was quoted as saying.
The chairman of the parliamentary committee, MP Jamie Maxton-Graham, confirmed in a letter to the ambassador that she had never appeared before the inquiry or made any written statement.
Also, Hernandez recounted how he had twice phoned a senior unnamed editor of the Post-Courier to get comment and was told the newspaper stood by its story.
But on November 12 the Post-Courier published a story acknowledging that the original report had been denied.
“The Philippines Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Madam Ho-Vicario has denied that she appeared before the Parliamentary Bipartisan Committee investigating the anti-Asian rioting in May,” said the Post-Courier report.
“She has also denied the situation reported in that article.
“The Post-Courier on Tuesday printed a report on the front page quoting remarks from the parliamentary committee meeting of last Friday, which claimed that 16,000 of the 19,000 Filipinos living in Papua New Guinea were living here illegally.
“This was based on remarks by committee member Philip Kikala during evidence and discussion about the state of forestry projects and the allegations of foreign workers being smuggled in via such projects.
“The report quoted Mr Kikala as saying the ambassador had given the figures to the committee last Friday.”
Hernandez said most Pinoys living in PNG were employed with valid documents as professionals – accountants, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, IT experts, foresters, miners, managers, administrative officers and others.
“According to official figures submitted by the Philippine Embassy in Port Moresby to the Philippine Congress as required of embassies worldwide, there are only 10,120 expatriates in the country as of June 2009,” Hernandez wrote on his blog.
“About 670 of them are permanent residents, 6600 are temporary migrants (work permit holders), and 2850 which are considered ‘undocumented or irregular’ (these are the holders of business visas and tourist visas).”
Hernandez also reported: “Joey Sena, president of the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG), has expressed concern over the safety of his compatriots around the country.”
The ambassador is reportedly considering filing a complaint with the PNG Media Council and taking legal action.