EMTV news team walk out in protest over suspension of their chief editor

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The empty EMTV newsroom
The empty EMTV newsroom last night ... after a walkout in protest by journalists over the suspension of their head of news Sincha Dimara. Image: APN

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The national news team of Papua New Guinea’s major television channel, EMTV, walked out last night in protest over a decision earlier this month to suspend head of news Sincha Dimara for 21 days without pay for alleged insubordination.

They have condemned the political “endless intimidation” of the news service which has led to the suspension or sacking of three news managers in the past five years.

The news team has vowed to not return until the “wrongs have been righted” by the EMTV management with Dimara, a journalist of 33 years experience, being reinstated, and acting CEO Lesieli Vete being “sidelined and investigated for putting EMTV News into disrepute”.

In a statement signed by the “Newsroom 2022” team made public tonight, the team apologised to viewers for not broadcasting last night’s news bulletin.

“With all that has happened in the last eight days, the EMTV News team has decided to walk off producing EMTV News for tonight, Thursday, 17th February 2022,” the statement said.

“We, therefore demand that Ms Dimara be reinstated and for interim CEO Lesieli Vete to be sidelined and investigated for putting EMTV News into disrepute.

“We no longer have confidence in her leadership.

Apology to viewers
“The EMTV Newsroom would like to apologise to our viewers for not bringing you tonight’s news bulletin. We will return when the wrongs have been righted.”

The controversy arose over a series of news stories about Australian hotel businessman Jamie Pang and his court cases.

According to the newsroom statement, on Monday, 7 February 2022, “a fraction of the EMTV News team was verbally notified of a decision made by EMTV management to suspend EMTV’s head of news and current affairs, Sincha Dimara for a 21-day period”.

The statement said the decision had been based on two grounds:

“Purported insubordination over a series of news stories relating to Jamie Pang and his associates and damaging the reputation of EMTV, which the interim CEO claims EMTV received negative comments from the public on the airing of Jamie Pang’s stories.”

Court proceedings against Pang related to producing, trafficking, and distributing narcotics were dismissed last month. Despite his acquittal, police detained Pang for alleged breach of immigration law and firearm offences.

Suspended EMTV news manager Sincha Dimara
Suspended EMTV news manager Sincha Dimara … “”We are dismayed at the extreme harsh treatment of our head of news,” say the EMTV news team. Image: EMTV News

The news team said the issue could have been “handled better” by the interim CEO Vete who “lacked a demonstration of leadership”.

“We are dismayed at the extreme harsh treatment of our head of news and the continuous interferences from outside the newsroom,” the statement said.

Third suspension in five years
“This is the third time in a space of five years for an EMTV news manager to be suspended due to external influence.”

  • Scott Waide was the first manager suspended in 2018 over a story aired during the 2018 APEC meeting.
  • Neville Choi was terminated in August 2019, also on grounds of “insubordination”.
  • And now Sincha Dimara was placed in a similar situation.

On Wednesday, 9 February 2022, the news team wrote a letter to Vete expressing concern on the suspension of Dimara.

According to the news team, Vete queried the letter demanding to know which staff members were involved in sending out the letter.

The same day, Thursday, 10 February 2022, the entire news team expressed their concern in another letter with signatures from all individual members to support the call to re-instate Dimara.

“We are certain that the manner and approach taken by the interim CEO over the suspension of Ms Dimara is not right,” said the news team.

“We consider the grounds of suspension to be shallow, contradictory and irrelevant.

EMTV's defence statement
EMTV’s statement defending the suspension of its news chief by highlighting a memo “leak” on February 8. Image: EMTV website

News reports ‘unbiased and factual’
“The news team strongly believes that the stories that ran on the nightly news relating to Jamie Pang were unbiased and reported with facts and did not impede on any of the current laws nor did not implicate anyone.”

On Thursday, 10 February 2022, the EMTV management team, acting CEO of Telikom – the owners of EMTV’s parent company Media Niugini Limited (MNL)  — and few senior officers met with the news team and explained their decision to suspend Dimara.

The management team initiated an audit investigation into the situation to determine what went wrong. That investigation is still continuing.

After that meeting, the news team wrote another letter addressed to Telikom acting CEO, Amos Tepi and copied in the chairman of Telikom, Johnson Pundari which was sent to both Tepi and Pundari yesterday – February 17.

“The decision to suspend Dimara is wrong as it breaches the Media Code of Ethics which is to report without fear or favour,” the news team said.

The team also said it was standing up against continuous intimidation from the interim CEO.

‘Endless intimidation’
“We condemn the endless direct or indirect intimidation which includes:

  • Threats of terminating news members for not putting together a news bulletin;
  • Micromanaging daily news production by being present in the master control room during live news;
  • Forcing the news team to sign a recently drafted news manual through the HR Department; and
  • Attempts to single out individual staff and asking if they have read the news manual or finding out if they have completed a degree or diploma in their respective fields.

Under Dimara’s leadership, EMTV News has won the award for AVN Outstanding Reporting from the Pacific category for a well-documented series, Last Man Standing, which covered the political life of a founding father of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan.

Dimara was planning the coverage of Papua New Guinea’s 2022 National Elections and the news team insist they need her leadership.

There was no immediate public response from the EMTV management to the news team’s walkout protest last night, nor was there any mention of the absence of the nightly bulletin on the new channel’s website.

The Media Council of PNG condemned Dimara’s suspension, describing the move as a “dangerous precedent … in an election year”.

Several media freedom monitoring organisations have made statements with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemning the “unacceptable political meddling” and calling for immediate reinstatement of Sincha Dimara.

The Paris-based International Federation of Journalists also condemned Dimara’s suspension and urged the company to immediately reinstate her.  Pacific Media Watch reported on the ongoing intimidation of EMTV editorial staff.

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