Media Council condemns EMTV over ‘dangerous’ suspension of news chief

Sacked EMTV news manager Sincha Dimara
Sacked EMTV head of news Sincha Dimara ... “This is an assault not only on workers’ rights but also media freedom in PNG," says MEAA. Image: APR File

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The Media Council of PNG has condemned the suspension of the news chief of Papua New Guinea’s major television channel, EMTV, describing the move as a “dangerous precedent … in an election year”.

The council said the suspension of head of news and current affairs Sincha Dimara for 21 days without pay over coverage by EMTV about the rearrest of Australian hotel manager Jamie Pang last month was an an act of intimidation by the interim CEO and management of Media Niugini Ltd in the face of political influence.

It amounted to “suppression of a free media in the country”, the council added in its statement today.

Papua New Guinea faces a general election in June this year.

As a warning to all media managements in PNG, the council said that a strong news service was only as strong as its head of news, with the support of the company’s management and board.

“To resort to suspending its head of news for reasons of performing and complying to a ministerial directive based on personal or emotional reactions to social media comments about a story reeks of undue political influence, and sets a dangerous precedent as the country moves into election year,” it said.

“[This is] a time when strong independent news assessment will be key in news coverage.”

Reinstate Dimara call by Media Council
The council called on EMTV’s interim CEO Lesieli Vete and the management to immediately reinstate Dimara as head of news to “protect the interest of the media industry”.

The suspension had been at the “behest of an executive directive” from the minister responsible for EMTV to “fix the problem”. The minister was not named by the council.

The Media Council of PNG media statement
The Media Council of PNG media statement today. Image: APR

For EMTV’s CEO Vete to “target her head of news in efforts to ‘fix the problem’ clearly shows that Media Niugini Ltd has not learned from its past experiences of sidelining, and even terminating, its heads of news based on political directives“.

The council’s statement also cited four EMTV reports of the Pang coverage, which it described as well-balanced and presented:

  • Friday, January 28, 2022: “Pang acquitted”, about the legal outcome of the case against the hotelier.
  • Monday, January 31, 2022: “Pang’s staff concerned”, focused on the alleged human rights abuse surrounding the re-arrest of Pang.
  • Tuesday, February 1, 2022: “Boxers concerned for Pang”, focused on the views of boxers involved in community martial arts programmes run by Pang.
  • Wednesday, Febuary 2, 2022: “Mixed martial arts”, focused on the Mixed Martial Arts club with no mention of Pang’s association with it.

Other PNG news media reported Pang being acquitted and the concerns of his employees over his rearrest.

‘Shallow’ reasons for suspension
The council said it recognised Dimara’s news assessment over the stories and rejected EMTV management’s reasons for suspending her, describing them as “shallow”.

EMTV’s management claimed staff were neither “restricted nor stopped from reporting unfolding stories on the detained resident”.

It said a leaked internal memo had been the result of “alleged insubordination by staff towards verbal lawful instructions to drop stories sympathising with Pang”.

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