RSF condemns ‘unacceptable political meddling’ over PNG news chief suspension

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EMTV News ... recent history of suspending and sacking top news and current affairs staff for political reasons. Image: EMTV logo

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the “unacceptable political meddling” behind Sincha Dimara’s suspension as head of news and current affairs at EMTV News, Papua New Guinea’s main public television news channel, after three news stories annoyed a government minister.

The Paris-based global media freedom watchdog said in a statement today she must be reinstated at once.

After 33 years at EMTV News, Sincha Dimara was suspended for at least three weeks without pay on February 7.

From a leaked memo from Lesieli Vete, the CEO of Media Niugini Limited (MNL), EMTV’s owner – which was finally published on February 9 – her staff learned that she had been accused of “insubordination” and “damaging the reputation of the company”.

The “insubordination” consisted of three stories by Dimara’s news team about Australian hotel manager Jamie Pang’s legal problems in Papua New Guinea and suspicions that the police had violated criminal procedure in the case,

Their reporting seems to have displeased Public Enterprises Minister William Duma, who — according to several accounts — was behind the decision to suspend Dimara.

Duma is also in charge of Telikom, the state-owned telecommunications company that owns MNL, and therefore, by extension, EMTV News.

Two days after Dimara’s suspension, the Media Council of PNG issued a statement defending her decision to broadcast the three stories.

Dimara told RSF that she was very concerned that the suspension was “affecting the performance of my staff”.

Deliberate intimidation
“As Sincha Dimara’s suspension is clearly a ploy to intimidate the entire editorial staff at EMTV News, we demand her immediate reinstatement as head of news and current affairs,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Suspended EMTV news manager Sincha Dimara
Suspended EMTV head of news Sincha Dimara … “disturbing precedents … coming just four months ahead of the June general elections.” Image: EMTV News

“This political interference weakening diversity in news and information is all the more unacceptable for having disturbing precedents and coming just four months ahead of next June’s general elections.”

Political and commercial pressure aimed at limiting editorial freedom at EMTV News is not new.

Scott Waide, an EMTV News senior journalist of long standing, was suspended in November 2018 over a story suggesting that the government had misused public funds by purchasing luxury cars, as reported by Asia Pacific Report.

He was later reinstated after protests and has since become an independent media operator.

The political pressure on EMTV News is such that Neville Choi was fired as head of news in 2019 on the same grounds as his successor now — for “insubordination.” He was eventually reinstated.

Papua New Guinea is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Asia Pacific Report and Pacific Media Watch collaborate with Reporters Without Borders.

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