Papua New Guinea’s government must withdraw media control project
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Papua New Guinea’s government to immediately withdraw a draconian media “development” project that was adopted without any real consultation and poses a major threat to journalistic independence.
In what may be an example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions, the government has produced a “Draft National Media Development Policy” with the declared aim of turning the media into “a tool for development” including “the promotion of democracy, good governance, human rights, and social and economic development.”
“It is entirely commendable for a democracy to want to encourage the development of a healthy and dynamic news and information environment. But, as it stands, the policy proposed by Port Moresby clearly endangers the independence of the media by establishing government control over their work. We call on information and communication technology minister Timothy Masiu to abandon this proposal and start again from scratch by organising a real consultation and by providing proper safeguards for journalistic independence.
The policy’s most alarming measures concern the Media Council, which is currently a non-governmental entity representing media professionals. It would be turned into a judicial commission with the power to determine who should or should not be regarded as a journalist, to issue a code of ethics and to impose sanctions on journalists who stray from it.
“Regulatory government body”
These are disproportionate powers, especially as there is no provision for ensuring the independence of those appointed as the new Media Council’s members. There is also no provision for journalists and media outlets to challenge or appeal against its decisions.
“The policy envisages the media council as a regulatory and licencing body for journalists, which means, hypothetically, that it could penalise journalists if they present a narrative that is not in favour of the government,” said Scott Waide, a blogger and analyst who was deputy regional head of news at state-owned EMTV News. “The re-invented media council would be nothing more than a regulatory government body,” he added.
The government’s new policy seems all the more ill-considered given that, in the event of disputes with the media, there are already avenues for redress through the courts under the 1962 Defamation Act and 2016 Cybercrime Code Act.
Several journalists have been subjected to covert pressure from the government in recent years. They include Waide himself, who was suspended from his EMTV News job in November 2018 over a story suggesting that the government had misused public funds by purchasing luxury cars. EMTV’s news chief Sincha Dimara suffered the same fate in February 2022 after three news stories annoyed a government minister.