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Asia-Pacific Network: 28 January 1997

MEDIA: SOUTH PACIFIC NEWS MEDIA AT THE CROSSROADS

Regulation moves by Papua New Guinea's Constitutional Review Committee and in Fiji have put the region's news media under siege as never before. An analysis of the state of play presented to the Commonwealth Journalists' Association in Hongkong in January 1997 as draft laws are about to go before Parliament.

By DAVID ROBIE in Port Moresby



IN OCTOBER 1995, as part of a national review of whether Papua New Guinea should become a republic and change its national name, the Constitutional Review Commission embarked on a controversial seven-month exercise to examine whether the country's news media should become more "accountable".

In fact, the country's news media do a creditable job - certainly they are the most professional in the South Pacific - and there have been just a handful of defamation cases determined before the courts, and even fewer complaints before the Press Council in the two decades since independence in 1975.

Cynical views of the real reasons behind the review have focused on the general election in June this year and the need for a group of politicians to manipulate the media in the campaign. This desperation isn't too surprising as generally more than half of the sitting members of Parliament in the 109-seat House are tossed out in an election.

Nevertheless, after a series of public seminars organised by the CRC, news media organisations and constitutional lawyers, the committee came up with what appeared to be a reasonable report at face value.

"Existing legislation on the media [is] sufficient and government should not propose new restrictive laws," it said. And the objectives of the new Media Commission would include cooperating and working "closely with the PNG Media Council, the PNG Journalists' Association and other industry organisations and government bodies to protect and promote the interests of the media."

However, by the end of the last year such sentiments had been thrown aside and instead harsh draft media laws were drawn up by the CRC. "Registration" for journalists and news media organisations with stiff fines and "deregistration" for offenders were among the provisions.


A clip from the 1997 video FRI PRES: MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE PACIFIC.
In spite of a strong tradition of a free news media for most of the two decades since independence, Papua New Guinea's news media have faced an increasingly difficult time since 1987. Until then the country had boasted what was arguably the most vigorous and certainly the most independent press in the South Pacific region. The media proudly referred to itself as a "free press - probably the only one in a developing country, apart from India" (Phinney, 1985).

However, a commissioned report prepared by Australian barrister and ABC's Media Watch commentator Stuart Littlemore for the then Minister of Communications, Gabriel Ramoi, caused an uproar.

Based on the Littlemore report, Ramoi's Mass Media Tribunal Bill sought to unilaterally impose national development objectives on the news media. The licensing provisions for controlling editorial content and curbing foreign ownership provoked a polarised response. Eventually the bill was shelved and the ex-minister himself served a two-year jail sentence for misappropriating public funds.

Since then pressure on the South Pacific media shifted for a time to Polynesia where severe new legislation in Western Samoa and legal manoeuvres in Tonga designed to force journalists to reveal sources jeopardised press freedom in the early 1990s. A cartoon in the Cook Islands News daily newspaper on freedom of speech prompted a harsh reaction from Parliament. The climax came with an unprecedented jailing of journalists in Tonga twice in the past nine months with one deputy editor being arrested three times.

Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea the second Paias Wingti government embarked on developing a new media strategy by adopting a National Information and Communication Policy (NICP). The late Information and Communication Minister Martin Thompson soothed media unease about the policy by declaring that "the people of PNG should not be unduly concerned about the government legislating to control the media".

While stressing that freedom of expression and the media were guaranteed under the constitution, Thompson added that it was up to the policy committee to decide whether to impose any restrictions on the media. The Cook Islands, Samoan and Tongan experiences were a salutary warning for Papua New Guinea press freedoms.

Now the issue has turned full circle. In spite of those assurances then four years ago - and less than two months after two editors and a commoner member of Parliament were illegally jailed in Tonga for contempt of Parliament, and the Cook Islands News editor was again grilled over contempt of Parliament because of another so-called offensive cartoon - the PNG National Parliament is due to debate early in 1997 draft new laws imposing so-called accountability on the most professional news media of the South Pacific.

The proposed legislation is the Media Commission Bill, which seeks to govern the conduct of journalists; the National Information and Communication Authority Bill, which would formalise the NICP policy and govern news media organisations; and the Freedom of Information Bill, which some see as restricting information rather than strengthening the constitutional right.

SIGNIFICANTLY, a general election is due in mid-1997 and commentators such as Chief Ombudsman Simon Pentanu have questioned the haste and "thinly disguised political agenda" over the draft legislation.

Accountability already exists with defamation and contempt of court laws in place similar to those in Australia, and a Press Council that has recently been remodelled as a Media Council with wider terms of reference and a healthy self-regulatory process. In fact, if the news media had indeed been performing irresponsibly or unprofessionally it is rather remarkable that there have been only three defamation cases involving damages - the highest amount being K10,000 - being awarded by a court against a news media company and no serious complaints have been filed before the Press Council since independence.

An editorial in The Independent, a quality weekly newspaper owned by the churches of Papua New Guinea, described the moves toward tampering with the freedom of the media as "dangerous" (The Independent, 1996). The paper said:

One must question whether the main players and initiators of this exercise are motivated more by personal experiences of alleged abuse by the media than the genuine concern for the majority of Papua New Guineans? The chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Ben Micah, was asked by this newspaper to list at three instances which justify such a move. He listed only two and both involved himself. (Ibid)

In fact, throughout the region the assault on the news media is being led by either demigods or demagogues. Demigods in the sense of the King of Tonga's near divine and autocratic rule. Demagogues, as one unkind lawyer branded them at a constitutional review seminar in Port Moresby early in 1996 (Gawi, 1996) in the sense of self-serving politicians with scant regard for the community interests of their nations or the public right to know. According to lawyer John Gawi, the constitutional media inquiry has been an attempt by politicians to curb the exposure of crooked dealings such as the recent questionable dealings by government and politicians.

As far as we ordinary people are concerned, we don't view "press freedom" as a problem. Rather, our problem right now is crooked politicians.

If you politicians are worried about defamation of your "character" then we ask you: What character are we talking about - the ideal personality that you would like to project to the public but cannot live up to, or are we talking about your active personality characterised by greed, lust and aggression?

We the members of the public are very suspicious about this little constitutional review exercise. Why is it that among the present seven terms of reference, the only substantive one is that of press freedom and accountability? It seems more probable than not that this is a sinister political move to erode press freedom. (Gawi, 1996)

Several case studies in the region put the trend into perspective.

The Cook Islands cartoon affair
In October 1993 the publisher, editor and journalist/cartoonist - who calls himself Pantaim, a play on a pun and the "Phantom" - of the Cook Islands News were summoned before the parliamentary privileges committee over a mild cartoon poking fun over freedom of speech. Parliament forced the newspaper to apologise. Management and staff of the newspaper were interrogated for three days over the alleged contempt. According to Government parliamentarians, the cartoon was a "scurrilous attack on the integrity and dignity of Parliament and its 25 members" (Islands Business Pacific, 1993).

With Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry's ruling Cooks Islands Party facing a general election six months later, the timing of the cartoon was regarded as significant. The election would be the first covered by the Cook Islands News as an independent privately owned paper. Observed one news magazine: "Some election strategists thought it would be a good idea to give the newspaper, a fright, a warning". (Ibid)

Although cartoonist Jason Brown, known under his pen name as Pantaim, a play on a pun and the "Phantom" and who is now publisher of the new weekly paper Cook Islands Press, apologised at the time, he withdrew his apology early in 1996. (Sword, 1996)

Now a parliamentary privileges committee has found another cartoon published in the Cook Islands News that constitutes contempt. Drawn by an anonymous cartoonist using the name of Kata, which means "laugh" in Cook Islands Maori, it implied that there were people of unsound mind in Parliament. The motion to investigate the cartoon, published almost 12 months ago, was moved by the Education Minister Ngereteina Puna. (Ibid, 1996)

The Western Samoan defamation laws
At the beginning of February 1993, Western Samoan Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana introduced the Newspapers and Printers Act 1992/1993, requiring the disclosure of sources of information in defamation cases. Following two days of parliamentary debate, the legislation was passed into law on February 3 that year. Penalties for breaching the new law involve a fine of up to 5000 tala, or a three month jail term. Later the same month a new Defamation Act, making it an offence to publish defamatory statements about a third party in court proceedings was also passed. No public submissions were allowed for the newspaper law, although the Journalists' Association of Western Samoa (JAWS) was able to make submissions on the defamation law.

However, as the implications of the legislation became clear, international journalist organisations protested vigorously. The national secretary of NZ's Journalists and Graphic Process Union (JAGPRO), Tony Wilton, who was also Oceania adviser to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said the laws were "a serious blow to the free flow of information in the Pacific, and could harm the development of democratic institutions". (Wilton, 1993). He endorsed protests by the Pacific Journalists Association (PJA) and the IFJ. The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) also condemned the legislation with its president Monica Miller describing it as "a form of censorship". (Miller, 1993).

The Tongan journalist jailings
In Tonga, gags, threats, defamation cases with the threat of bankruptcy and vilification are nothing new to Samuela 'Akilisi Pohiva. The pro-democracy movement leader who has been a broadcaster and publishes a best-selling "muckraking" newsletter has faced everything he thought the establishment in the Pacific kingdom of Tonga could throw at him. But the imprisonment of commoner MP Pohiva and two journalists for 30 days in September 1966 for contempt of Parliament shocked media and human rights circles in the Pacific and internationally. Pohiva, arguably the best-known whistleblower in the region, has waged a decade-long campaign for open government and he exposed the notorious Tongan passports-for-sale scandal in his newsletter Kele'a.

Many media commentators see the jailings in Tonga as the most serious threat to media freedom in the South Pacific since the Fiji coups in 1987 But coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, now Fiji's elected prime minister, sees the harsh move as a lesson for journalists. Other critics, including a spokesperson for the Commonweath Journalists Association, regard the issue as one of a need for greater professionalism.

Feuding between some media organisations over the support campaign for the jailed three - Pohiva, Taimi 'o Tonga editor 'Eakalafi Moala and subeditor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola - also added a curious twist to the affair. Although Australian news media largely ignored the jailings, in spite of a parallel with five journalists having faced jail or fines in recent contempt of court cases, several organisations treated the issue seriously - including the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism which established a "Tongan jailings update" on its Online Journalism website.

One of the jailed men, 'Akau'ola had been detained for 26 hours last February after his newspaper published a letter criticising Police Minister Clive Edwards. An Auckland-based Agence France Presse correspondent. Michael Field, who has reported Tongan affairs closely, was barred from entering the kingdom for the Pacific Islands News Association convention in August because of alleged critical writing.

The three men were released on October 14 after serving just 26 days of their sentence when the Tongan Supreme Court ruled that they had been detained illegally in violation of the constitution. They now plan to sue the government.

According to their New Zealand civil rights lawyer, Barry Wilson, their release was encouraging for emerging democratic freedoms in the kingdom. The court found that the three had not been covered by the normal safeguards for a trial provided under the constitution. Therefore it came to the conclusion that they were being illegally detained. Wilson successfully filed a writ of habeas corpus on October 11 after two earlier attempts had failed. Amnesty International declared the three men political prisoners and international media freedom groups and human rights movements mounted several appeals for their release.

The men had been jailed for contempt of Parliament on September 19 after the Tongan Times published a leaked an untabled impeachment notice against Justice Minister Tevita Tupou. The motion was tabled the following week alleging that the minister had gone to the Atlanta Olympic Games on full parliamentary allowances and privileges without authorisation. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV used his powers as absolute monarch to close the House after it had voted to impeach Justice Minister Tupou. Tonga's 30-member Legislative Assembly is dominated by 21 unelected representatives of the kingdom's noble families (cabinet ministers are appointed by the King) plus nine elected people's representatives.

In November 1996, Pohiva, another commoner MP, and 'Akau'ola were again arrested , this time over allegations of sedition arising out of a newspaper article calling for democracy.

The PNG moves to limit the news media
Like Tonga, Papua New Guinea's constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Although PNG has in the past rarely figured on the Reporters Sans Frontieres lists of transgressing nations over violations of press freedom - both gaggings of the National Broadcasting Commission in the past two years were two occasions when it has been cited - it wouldn't take a great deal for this to happen.

One of the significant cases in the past few years was when then Forest Minister Tim Neville alleged on talkback radio death threats had been made against him and his family. The major logging company Rimbunan Hijau sued Radio Kalang for defamation and it was settled out of court with the radio station making fullpage apologies in the newspapers.

Professor David Flint, chairman of the Australian Press Council, said at a media freedom seminar in Port Moresby in February: "One of the disadvantages for Australians in not having to fight for their freedom - as the Americans did - is that you always don't appreciate how precious it is. That's why the Americans in their famous First Amendment guaranteed the freedom of the press. They ensured that the press would be accountable to the public and no one else." (Flint, 1996)

In effect, the First Amendment not only prevents Congress from making laws abridging freedom of speech, it also prohibits laws abridging freedom of the press. Professor Flint highlighted the safeguards within Papua New Guineašs own constitution. In the preamble, for example, are the words:

We, the people of Papua New Guinea by virtue of our inherent right as ancient, free and independent peoples do now establish this sovereign nation and declare ourselves, under the guiding hand of God, to be the independent State of Papua New Guinea.

And we assert, by virtue of that authority, that all power belongs to the people - acting through other duly elected representatives.

Under Section 46, every person in Papua New Guinea has the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

How inalienable is that right? According to Chief Justice Sir Arnold Amet the right is restricted. As he says, "The first fundamental principle [about constitutional rights] is that there is absolutely no right in life that is absolute. This is a profound truth that is so often overlooked and ignored in many deliberations and debates and assertions of rights". (Amet, 1996)

The Chief Justice gave the right to life being curtailed by capital punishment as an example. However, John Momis, one of the fathers of the constitution, insists that the objective of Section 46 was to be a "formal guarantee" and a "formal protection of the citizens' innate rights and freedoms" (Momis, 1996). He recalls that the provision was founded on "one of the great principles on which democracy rests [that] is the right to differ on any topic of discussion, be it social, economic, political, cultural or religious".

People view any issue in different ways. We in the Constitutional Planning Committee believed firmly that they should have the right to express their own views, within very broad limits, on any particular matter, and that in principle every citizen should be free to criticise the policies of the government of the day.

The media has a particular responsibility in this regard, as unless those who wish to express independent opinions are reported in the media, their effectiveness is likely to be much reduced, and the opportunity for meaningful debate on important public issues may be lost. The formation and expression of public opinion is vital to the kind of participatory democracy we believed our people wanted (Momis, 1996).

Momis added that the constitution framers made particular reference to the freedom of the press which, of course, did not mean freedom without responsibility. "In an emerging nation such as Papua New Guinea, we believed the media had a very important responsibility to report news accurately - and to give equal opportunities and facilities for the expression by the citizens of opposing or differing views," he said. Closely related to Section 46 of the Constitution is Section 51 which says

every citizen has the right to reasonable access to official documents, subject only to the need for such secrecy as is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in respect of matters relating to national security, defence or international relations, records of meetings and decisions of the National Executive Council and other elected bodies as are prescribed by an Organic Law or an Act of Parliament.

If the Government were to truly honour this constitutional provision, a genuine Freedom of Information Act should be legislated in keeping with the vision of the Constitutional Planning Committee.

Media freedom defined
What is meant by "freedom of the press"? According to the International Federation of Journalists, the major international working journalists organisation, the phrase means freedom in the collection of information, freedom of opinion and comment, freedom from interference by public authority - in accordance with the United Nations (Article 19) and European Declarations of Human Rights - including the freedom to criticise and oppose governments and political bodies and freedom in the dissemination of news by all forms of news media. (International Federation of Journalists, 1996).

Of the 28 "official" speakers at the recent "Freedom at the Crossroads" seminar organised by the new Papua New Guinea Media Council, a body hastily established by the country's news media organisations to put their house in order, only one could be truly described as a working journalist, ie a senior journalist, who does not have an editorial managerial role - Neville Togarewa, of the Post-Courier. (1)

No rank-and-file Papua New Guinean journalists or student journalists were invited to give their perspective although some did raise their concerns from the floor. Neither was a member of the interim executive of the now defunct PNG Journalists' Association given an opportunity to discuss the fate of this organisation, the reasons why Papua New Guinea has not been able to establish a viable journalists union protecting the profession's industrial and ethical foundations as in other countries, and where journalists should be headed in future. In the circumstances, critics could be forgiven if they regard the seminar as being more concerned with the "freedom of the owners of the press" rather than the freedom of the press and the public's right to know per se.

However, Neville Togarewa made several crucial points in his address. He summed up the Government's decision to press for a new media law using the Constitutional Review Commission's directives as window dressing as "rash, ill-conceived and without justification - a knee-jerk reaction based on the Government's misconceptions of the role and operations of the media" (Togarewa, 1996c). His explanation for this was that the media directive had undoubtedly been forced on the Government by its "Failure to financially support its own information and communication services to better serve Government and the public" (Ibid.).

Togarewa's perception is that the Government is mostly concerned about "selection and placement" of stories. He suggests this is a matter best addressed by editorial managements adopting guidelines to assist news selection and layout rather than leaving "obviously important editorial decisions to a select few who have their own biases and prejudices". But he insists that editorial decisions should remain the preserve of editorial committees as is currently the case. The Government concerns, in his view, do not call for a Government-sponsored legislative initiative, nor do they warrant a bipartisan-supported constitutional reform of the news media.

Togarewa, reflecting a widely held view among PNG journalists, supports calls for a Freedom of Information Act to "ensure transparency" in Government decision-making. He also refers to criticisms that the news media is allegedly "trying to play, or take over, the role of the elected government in setting [a] national agenda - or even running the country". He goes on to say:

I don't agree with this criticism. A Government is made up of supposedly like-minded elected representatives with common philosophies and programs, working in unison to achieve their objectives.

Journalists, on the other hand, are very individualistic, rarely agreeing with each other and collectively; they are very disorganised. This is why the [old] PNG Press Council is defunct, the PNG Journalists' Association is defunct, and the PNG Press Club is in hibernation. (Ibid)

During the weeks leading up to the tabling of the draft media laws in Parliament there were a number of incidents infringing traditional press freedom.

The Malaysian water deal gag
On October 8, the Ombudsman Commission's controversial report on the Port Moresby water supply project scandal was tabled in Parliament and the National Court promptly barred its publication by the country's newspapers. In an extraordinary decision, Judge Maurice Sheehan restrained the newspapers from publishing the findings of the commission's investigation following an injunction sought by three businessmen - one of them related to the Prime Minister. (The National, 1996a)

The Ombudsman recommended that all contracts be terminated with a Malaysian consortium JC-KRTA to build and operate Port Moresby's water and sewerage system on a 22-year BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis and that the project be let for tender following normal procedures. The report also strongly criticised the roles of the businessmen and the Deputy Prime Minister Chris Haiveta, who holds the finance portfolio. The Ombudsman also gave a 30-day deadline for the government to take action over the report.

The businessmen were Foong Chin Cheah, Tony Chan and Sir Hugo Berghuser .They argued that a judicial review challenging the validity of the report was pending and it would be unfair for it to be published in the meantime. Foong, a Malaysian citizen, and a Papua New Guinean, John Kaisapwalova, also involved in the water deal, were implicated in the Barnett Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the PNG forest industry (The Independent, 1996b)

Several newspapers protested in editorials, pointing out that while the PNG press were prevented from publishing the facts, it was a parodox that news agencies, newspapers abroad and even the local EM TV could broadcast the news with impunity. (The National, 1996b). As The National said:

Even more bizarre, overseas media organisations with PNG-based representatives such as the ABC and AAP are at perfect liberty to transmit the story around the world, so that it is possible that a Sydney-sider reading his Herald or Telegraph this morning will know much more about PNG events than newspaper readers in this country.

A day later, Judge Sheehan lifted the injunction by consent following agreement by the opposing counsel that Parliament was the supreme authority and that anything put before the House was a public matter.

In another incident, the news media was banned in mid-October from attending an official commission of inquiry into a Porgera gold mine explosion which killed six Papua New Guineans and five Australians. On October 3, Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan called on the Speaker, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, to refer Post-Courier editor Oseah Philemon to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee over an editorial about a controversial mini-budget calling on the Deputy Prime Minister Chris Haiveta to resign because of the PM's alleged "ulterior motives".

The Prime Minister's remarks immediately caused an uproar in the House with Opposition MPs booing him. Stephen Pokawin, the Governor of Manus, said political leaders should not get caught up in a mentality that their actions were "always right". (The National; 1996c).

Constitutional report and draft law
When the report of the Constitutional Review Committee's media subcommittee was tabled in Parliament in June 1996, the report generally reflected the committee's findings during its six-month consultative process. Its recommendations were:

Existing legislation on the media are sufficient and government should not propose new restrictive laws.

An Information and Communications Authority be established under an Act of Parliament and vested with the authority to monitior and regulate the entire information and communication sector.

This body, including an Independent Media Commission, would review the entire sector to set in place a media industry which will effectively play its role.

Membership of the Media Commission would be drawn from the PNG Media Council, the PNG Journalists' Association, the PNG Law Society, the Judiciary, PNG Trade Union Congress, the PNG Council of Churches, and women and church groups

The objectives of the Media Commission would be to:

(a) Cooperate and work closely with the PNG Media Council, the PNG Journalists' Association, and other industry organisations and government bodies to protect and promote the interest of the media.

(b) Act as a watchdog against abuses of freedom on complaints and freedom of the press.

(c) Receive, adjudicate and hand down decisions on complaints by individuals or groups against media organisations.

(d) Ensure that journalists abide by their Code of Ethics at all times.

(e) Ensure that media organisations, owners, publishers, editors, chief executives, journalists and other employers adhere at all times to whatever self-regulatory measures that are in place.

(f) Undertake any such tasks that the government directs it to carry out from time to time.

The Defamation Act be reviewed and amended to take account of current trends and practices.

The current censorship laws be reviewed and, where applicable, revised to "return the original conceived authority to the Chief Censor of Papua New Guinea, to act in the equitable interests of the media in PNG for the betterment of the majority of Papua New Guineans" ...

Parliament enact a Freedom of Information Act

Parliament enact a copyright law to protect PNG culture, artists, writers and inventors.

The Martin Thompson White Paper on Information and Communication be adopted as official policy..

Government support the acquisition of controlling equity participation, by nationals of the media industry - especially print media.

The recommendations are quite wide-ranging, but the real agenda, perhaps, was hinted at in the foreword which was more in line with the CRC chairman and prime minister's personal view than the findings of the subcommittee. The foreword, signed by commissioner John Paska, head of the PNG Trade Union Council, argues for an authoritarian Asian model and suggests the desirability of publishing licences.

If it is deemed necessary for our commission to recommend a ... provision like this for our government to have the power to issue publishing licences, it should only be put in , more as a deterrent so that the media organisations can be ever-effective in applying their in-house processes of regulation and control and not be complacent in effectively redressing the grievances of those aggrieved.

It has often been noted that the media organisations, if left to themselves to self--regulate or take appropriate measure to redress those aggrieved, tend to be self-serving, and posturisingly (sic) become complacent. This power of issuing or revoking printing, publishing or broadcasting licences must be and should only be vested in a collective, independent body with stringent rules as to when and how it may be applied.

One cannot help drawing parallels between the republic of Indonesia's experiences on this issue of mass media ... In this healthy partnership approach of the Indonesian government and the mass media, the role of the media has always been understood as that of disseminating objective information, exercising and exerting of constructive social control, channelling people's aspirations, and bridging communication between the Government and the public at large, and of course, in engendering the community's participation in the process of nation building.

The Papua New Guinea National Constitution and its government share similar historical and political experiences having emerged also from the womb of colonialism, and born to face the daunting challenges with a burning hope to remould ourselves into a tribe of one people. We have likewise formulated our National Constitution, home grown so we claimed, and are filled with so many ideals, hopes and aspirations. (CRC Report Vol 2:3, 1996:vi-vii)

The draft laws were made public in November and were immediately condemned by the PNG news media and several commentators. Likened by National Institute of Affairs director John Millett to "the sword of Damocles", the Media Commission Bill effectively gives the Government through a largely appointed Commission the power to direct the media, register and deregister journalists (Millett; 1996). Failure to comply with an "order or direction" could bring a fine of up to K2000.

Section 28 makes it mandatory for the Commission to withdraw a certificate of registration from a journalist, writer, announcer, compere or presenter whom the Commission finds to be "guilty of a serious offence which is detrimental to the interest of the public ..." In spite of promises to the public, the drafters of the legislation have adopted, in the words of Millett, "the heavy-handed approach, imposing unacceptable risks on society" (Ibid.).

Praising the media's performance, saying the politicians are lucky it is not more probing like in Australia, The National said "there is neither the need, nor the excuse for any regulatory action to be imposed by our government". The Post-Courier asked why the rush to get this legislation in place while the rest of the six subcommittees' work is still unfinished.

Complained Anna Solomon: "With the national elections [during 1997], one would expect priority to be given to the directive on "integrity of political parties and candidates" She argues that funds should be given immediately to review and amend the law on defamation, instead of wasting funds on drafting new legislation.

The direction taken by Papua New Guinea over its draft media legislation is being interpreted as a bench mark, or warning, for the rest of the Pacific region.

Endnote:

  1. No general meeting or election of officers has been held since the interim executive was established in 1990 and early in 1996 the PNGJA was publicly listed by the Industrial Registrar as a trade union "defaulter" and asked to show cause why it should not be deregistered. (The National, 18 January, 1996, p 21). The interim executive was: president Frank Senge Kolma, currently editor of The National (formerly press secretary to Prime Minister Paias Wingti), vice-president Sorariba Nash, lecturer in journalism, University of Papua New Guinea; treasurer Neville Togarewa, senior reporter Post-Courier; and secretary Ambie Bulum, a press officer for Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan. However, on 9 November 1996 the PNGJA held a meeting to revive the association. Togarewa was elected interim president; the other interim executives: Abby Yadi (The Independent), vice-president; Cletus Ngaffkin (The National), secretary; Ambie Bulum (Media Department, Prime Minister's Office), treasurer. Shortly after it made a submission to the CRC.

References:
Amet, Chief Justice Sir Arnold (1996): "Media accountability and access to redress", opening address given to the "Freedom at the Crossroads" seminar, Port Moresby, February 29-March 1.

Gawi, John (1996): comments from the floor during the Constitutional Review Commission seminar on the Governor-Generalšs terms of reference in Port Moresby, January 12-14.

Constitutional Review Commission (1996): Vol 2. Governor-General's Terms of Reference Part 3 : "Interim report on terms of reference No 7 - "Whether changes need to be made to ensure that, while freedom of the press is maintained, owners, editors and journalists of all elements of the media are accountable and that persons aggrieved by media abuses have accessible redress", Port Moresby, June 30.

International Federation of Journalists (1996), International Press Card.

Islands Business Pacific (1993): "Henry's men want to intimidate the free press before the election", November 1993, p 12.

Miller, Monica (1993): PINA press statement, February 8.

Millett, John (1996): "Media bill linked to sword of Damocles", Post-Courier, December 6.

Momis, John, MP (1996): "Why Section 46 was included in the Constitution", a paper presented to the "Freedom at the Crossroads" seminar, Port Moresby, 29 February 29-March 1, Pacific Journalism Review, Vol 3 No 2, November.

Papua New Guinea Information and Communication Policy document (1995):, March.

Phinney, Richard (1985): "A profile of journalists in PNG", Australian Journalism Review, Vol 7 Nos 1 & 2, Jan-Dec, pp 40-48.

PNG Post Courier (1993): "We're not out to restrict the media ‹ Thompson", April 8.

The Independent, (1996a), editorial: "Tampering with the freedom of the media is dangerous", January 12.

The Independent (1996b): "Sir J wants Parliament to censure editor", October 4.

The Independent (1996c): "Barnett forest inquiry figures key players in NCDC water deal", October 11.

The National (1996a): "Water probe report gagged", October 9.

The National (1996b): "Puzzling injunction", October 9.

The National (1996c): "Sir J wants Parliament to censure editor", October 4.

Radio Australia (1996): Cook Islands parliamentary committee investigating cartoon", September 24.

Robie, David (1993), "Erosion of freedom of the press in the South Pacific", Australian Journalism Review, Vol 15 No 2, July-December, pp 33-34.

- , editor (1995), Nius Bilong Pasifik: Mass Media in the Pacific, Port Moresby: University of PNG Press.

- (1996a), "PNG journalists condemn media bills", Asia-Pacific Network, December 12.

- (1996b), "Tongan court frees jailed Times editors," Asia-Pacific Network, October 14.

Sword, Alex (1996): "Australian media coverage of the Pacific and the cartoon affair," seminar at the University of Technology, Sydney, October 24.

Togarewa, Neville (1996a): "PNG Journalists' Association Submission to the Constitutional Review Commission on Media Accountability and Access to Redress", November 25.

- (1996b): "Ombudsman questions purpose of media curbs", Post-Courier, November 11.

- (1996c): "Media, Government and the Constitution: A Journalist's Perspective," a paper presented at the "Freedom at the Crossroads" seminar, Port Moresby, February 29-March 1.

Wilton, Tony (1993), "Island government bid to block news sources," The Word (official newspaper of JAGPRO), March.

  • David Robie lectures in journalism at the University of Papua New Guinea's South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID). drobie@pactok.peg.apc.org
  • Commonwealth Journalists' Association Triennial Conference, Hongkong, January 27-31, 1997.

    Copies of David Robie's 27-minute PAL VHS documentary Fri Pres: Media Freedom in the Pacific are available from the South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID), University of Papua New Guinea, PO Box 320, Uni PO, NCD, Papua New Guinea. Tel/Fax: (675) 326 7191. Price: US$30 plus postage. A BetaSP broadcast version is also available. The program was broadcast on PNG's EM TV to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 1997 and again the following day.

    Copyright Š 1997 David Robie and Asia-Pacific Network. This copy is for educational and personal use only.


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