Jack Lapauve: Why we walked out in protest over EMTV news independence

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Happier times in the EMTV newsroom
Happier times in the EMTV newsroom ... the entire news team walked out last Thursday in protest over the suspension of their head of news and current affairs, Sincha Dimara, one of PNG's most experienced journalists with 33 years in the industry. people in this photo are not necessarly in involved in the dispute with EMTV. Image: APN

COMMENTARY: EMTV’s deputy news editor Jack Lapauve Jr in Port Moresby writes in defence of the newsroom’s decision to walk out in protest over the suspension of head of news and current affairs Sincha Dimara on February 7.

The EMTV News editorial decision to run the two stories [about the court cases involving Australian hotel businessman Jamie Pang] was based on two important points in our line of work:

Impartiality and Objectivity.

Impartiality cannot be achieved by the measure of words in a story, it is achieved by:

  • Avoiding bias towards one point of view
  • Avoiding omission of relevant facts
  • Avoiding misleading emphasis

All of which are stated in the EMTV News and Current Affairs Manual 2019 in section 17.5 under standard operations of the television code.

By running the stories, the team was accused of bias.

We fail to see the areas of bias in our stories, especially because we presented more than one point of view in both stories.

The information presented was based on facts and in avoiding any misleading emphasis; we delivered objective television news packages that were fully impartial in the code and conduct of journalism.

Objective stories
Overall, both stories were objective stories where two or more opinions were looked at closely in each story.

To be clear, in television news objectivity is achieved by taking a rational but sceptical approach to ALL points of view.

In this case, Jamie Pang’s arrest, conviction and charges were looked at, as well as his community and social activities:

  • Pang was arrested – Fact
  • Pang was convicted, charged and fined for having firearms and munitions in his possession – Fact
  • Pang was acquitted by a sound and proper court of justice in the PNG judicial system, from charges relating to methamphetamine – Fact
  • Being acquitted by a sound and proper court of justice in the PNG judicial system, makes Pang a free man from drug charges – Fact
  • Pang is heavily involved in social and community works – Fact
  • Pang was rearrested and detained – Fact

All these factual points were documented in one story.

Head of news Sincha Dimara .
Head of news Sincha Dimara … suspended by EMTV. Image: RSF

It is important to understand, that in objective writing, the opinion of the interviewees are their own. However, [how] it is perceived by the our viewers is up to them to weigh [up] and decide.

Objective [news] stories are often mistaken as opinion pieces.

They are not the same.

An opinion piece is a commentary on one point of view.

Journalism independence
As journalists we cannot be servants of sectional interests. It is our duty to speak to both “saints” and “sinners”. It is our democratic right to report on the good, bad and the ugly aspects of any story.

There are no instances of perceived impartiality in our reporting which display a lack of objectivity.

And a lack of objectivity leaves room for personal bias which is not acceptable in the journalism code of ethics.

The failure of the interim EMTV CEO, Lesieli Vete, to understand how a newsroom operates and a newsroom’s code of conduct led to the suspension of head of news Sincha Dimara.

Vete’s failure to try to understand the newsroom’s points of objectivity and impartiality in the stories led to her issuing of the statement portraying the newsroom as biased and in support of meth by sympathising with Pang’s employees and friends.

Vete’s statement served the purpose of explaining the leaked memo and portraying a bad picture of her newsroom.

Her statement lacked objectivity and impartiality because a written standpoint of the newsroom’s reasons for airing stories in the coverage of the Pang story were not included in her statement.

Suppression of media freedom
Vete’s questioning of our stance on running the story, and not showing any interest in learning nor understanding the way it was put together, led to further suppression of freedom of speech; direct and daily intimidation of senior and junior staff; micromanagement of staff whereabouts and activities; and direct and indirect threats of termination on staff.

The immense pressure to put a [news] bulletin together while being highly and closely monitored took a direct and serious toll on newsroom staff morale.

This created conditions that were suffocating to work under. A walk off was imminent.

We are making a stand now in solidarity against bullying and ill treatment of newsroom staff in the absence of news managers.

This is the third time we are experiencing a suppression of our right to freedom of speech, and we want it to stop once and for all.

After the suspension of Sincha Dimara, EMTV’s deputy news editor Jack Lapauve Jr is now the most senior news manager and he was with the walk out. He posted this commentary on his Facebook page and it is republished here with his permission.

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