PNG Post-Courier: Let’s talk first on media policy and transparency

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PNG's draft national media development policy
PNG's draft national media development policy . . . criticised by journalists and media freedom watchdogs, defended by the Information Department. Image: Bunghaus

EDITORIAL: PNG Post-Courier

The discussions on Papua New Guinea’s new draft media development policy will come to the fore today when the media industry presents its response to the government.

It is expected the PNG Media Council, which we are a member of, will present the position of the industry in response to the draft policy and members of the media fraternity, and other concerned institutions will also present their views to the Department of Information that is handling this exercise.

The policy paper outlines the government’s strategies to use the media as a tool for development, however the consultation progresses amidst a growing fear in the industry that legislation is ready to go before Parliament and the consultation process is only an academic exercise.

PNG Post-Courier
PNG POST-COURIER

Included in the proposed policy is the proposal to legislate the PNG Media Council and laws to impose penalties against journalists and media houses that are accused [of] bad reporting.

The industry is of the view that the proposed changes will erode the independence of the media and the journalists and ultimately the freedoms relating to free speech that are enshrined in the national constitution.

One cannot blame the industry and its practitioners for their concern considering the latest version to the policy document 2.1 contains 31 mentions of the word “regulation” in various instances among other things.

In the entire document its transparency on penalties also goes as far as 6 words alone without any more being uttered in its delivery mechanisms.

The PNG Media Council, for the record, is not a journalist organisation. It is an industry body and it functions to protect the interest of the industry.

Today the council is in existence, with its executive members operating from their homes, while the media industry is operating with its newsroom managers dealing daily with challenges like the growing concerns of a country with many issues on top of the self-regulation of unethical journalism, poor presentation and story selections and accountability, among many that are a daily task at hand.

On the other side, the government and its agencies are working in isolation, with no clear, honest and transparent media and communication strategies and allocate a budget to work with the mainstream media.

At Independence, PNG inherited an information and communication apparatus that comprised the Office of Information, the National Broadcasting Commission, the Public Library, the National Archives and the National Museum, all with networks spread throughout the provinces.

These institutions coordinate and disseminate government information to the masses, most of them illiterate at that time.

Today a new generation of people live in PNG, the Department of Communication replaces the Office of Information, the NBC had moved into television, competing with more radio and TV networks, but the public libraries, archives and museums are either run down or closed.

And the communication landscape has changed drastically with the advancement in information technology, including social media.

All state agencies have media and communication units that are operating on ad hoc basis, sending invitations out only for groundbreaking ceremonies, report presentations and a few random press releases, hoping that the mainstream media will “educate, inform and communicate” to the masses and mobilise their support behind the state.

Communication and stakeholder engagement is the least funded activity in government. This is a fact, and yet the government expects the mainstream media to be proactive and promote its work.

How can the media, as an independent industry do that when its role is not encompassed into the entire government planning?

The media is an important pillar of our democracy and is a useful tool for development. We just have to build an honest, transparent and workable partnership for the mutual benefit of everyone. This must happen.

But it cannot work with a stick, sword, or even a gun to the head of any pillar of our governance and society.

We look forward to the discussions today with the proponents of this policy document, and we hope to see more transparency on what is the end game that is mutually beneficial where we have to plot a new course in media-government relationship.

Republished with permission.

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