Papua New Guinea’s Police Minister Bryan Kramer has published an extraordinary attack on two leading journalists over their reporting of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of “misrepresenting” a financial update this week and suggesting they ought to be sacked.
He claimed in an Easter weekend posting on his Kramer Report – a Facebook publication dedicated to being the “inside story through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis” with more than 127,000 followers – that Loop PNG political and business editor Freddy Mou and senior PNG Post-Courier journalist Gorethy Kenneth “can’t be trusted”.
“Both journalists have close ties to the former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Both have also been accused of publishing biased and misleading reports,” Kramer alleged.
READ MORE: RSF criticises PNG government minister’s call for two reporters to be fired over Covid-19 coverage
The commentary was headlined: “Who got it wrong? PNG Loop or the Treasurer?”
Kramer accused Mou of misrepresenting a one-on-one interview with Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey in alleging that the bulk of the 23 million kina (almost NZ$11 million) released by the government for Covid-19 operations was being used to hire cars and media consultants.
According to Kramer, the Treasurer said the reporter had contacted him to get his response to a claim by Opposition Leader Belden Namah that the government’s recent announcement of a K5.6 billion stimulus package was illegal and that it needed to recall Parliament to pass a supplementary budget to give effect to any additional spending.
While acknowledging some criticisms of the funding, Kramer transcribed a video of the interview released by journalist Mou to Kenneth that she had purportedly shared on the Covid19 Whatsapp network, claiming: “The article is mischievous and misleading by including certain words the Treasurer said with additional words that he didn’t.”
Loop PNG stands by ‘key facts’
Loop PNG responded with an online editorial today saying that it stood by the “key facts of the story published on 9 April 2020 about the K23 million of taxpayer funds earmarked by the National Government for the Covid-19 response.”
WHO GOT IT WRONG? PNG LOOP OR THE TREASURER?On Wednesday 8 April, I met with the Minister for Treasury, Ian…
Posted by Kramer Report on Saturday, 11 April 2020
It added: “Any misunderstanding, though regrettable, was not deliberate or intentional, and Loop PNG rejects all assertions to the contrary.
“Loop PNG also rejects any attempts to interfere with its editorial independence, which is a cornerstone of Papua New Guinean democracy.”
“Loop PNG has a proud history of journalistic integrity and independence which it strives to uphold in every story. This is consistent with the fundamental role of the media in our democracy, which is to hold the government of the day to full account without fear or favour. Loop PNG will continue to play that important role throughout the state of emergency and beyond.”
The online news website added that it welcomed the detailed breakup of how the funds had been spent so far, which the Police Minister had posted on social media.
Amid hundreds of comments in response to the online furore, a leading independent media commentator and training consultant, Bob Howarth, a former publisher and general manager of the PNG Post-Courier, described it as a “disturbing situation” when the Police Minister “makes serious ethical allegations against two senior journalists”.
“[A] case for adjudication by an effective media council rather than a court of law?” he asked.
In his detailed online posting on Kramer Report, the minister said: “Though the Treasurer raises some concerns about some of the priorities in the spending, nowhere in the interview does the Treasurer say there are allegations that the ‘bulk’ of the 23 million kina released by the government for Covid-19 operations, was being used to hire cars and media consultants.
“Nor did he say the Prime Minister has been notified, [n]or that there was a call for a proper audit before the government releases the balance.
“It begs the question: What action would a reputable media company take against a journalist who caused significant damage to its reputation?
“If it were me being misrepresented in the media, I would take immediate action against the journalist and media company.”
Minister Kramer made a reputation for transparency and use of online media communication when an opposition MP for Madang. Since being part of the government led by Prime Minister James Marape, he has enhanced his reputation for straight talking and making information available on the internet.
Among responses online, one writer said: “Please enact laws to deal with journalists who publish or reports false and misleading information to the public. Kramer you’re in the government now so push for new policies or amendment of the act to cover these. Let the law deal with those liers once and for all rather than we argue amongst ourselves and the liars ride away freely.”
Another said: “This is not their [journalists] first time to report such [biased] information. They are misleading the 8 million plus population of this country. Those culprits need to be investigated and prosecuted by the law of this country.
“If you don’t do it now, then when are you going to do it? We need to see them facing the law of this sovereign nation.”