PNG draft media development policy ‘contemptuous’ of public interest

Draft PNG National Media Development Policy
Draft PNG National Media Development Policy "flies in the face of global norms for self-regulatory media councils and this development would have the potential to dangerously undermine media freedom in Papua New Guinea", says the APMN submission. Image: Inside PNG

Asia Pacific Media Network’s chair Dr Heather Devere, deputy chair Dr David Robie and Pacific Journalism Review editor Dr Philip Cass last month made a submission on Papua New Guinea’s draft national media development policy in response to PNG journalists’ requests for comment. Here is part of their February 19 submission before the stakeholders consultation earlier this month.  

ANALYSIS: By Heather Devere, David Robie and Philip Cass

An urgent rethink is needed on several aspects of the Draft National Media Development Policy. In summary, we agree with the statement made by the Community Coalition Against Corruption (CCAC) on 16 February 2023 criticising the extraordinary “haste” of the Ministry’s timeframe for public consultation over such a critical and vitally important national policy.

However, while the ministry granted an extra week from 20 February 2023 for public submissions this was still manifestly inadequate and rather contemptuous of the public interest.

In our view, the ministry is misguided in seeking to legislate for a codified PNG Media Council which flies in the face of global norms for self-regulatory media councils and this development would have the potential to dangerously undermine media freedom in Papua New Guinea.

The draft policy appears to have confused the purpose of a “media council” representing the “public interest” with the objectives of a government department working in the “national interest”.

If the ministry pushes ahead with this policy without changes it risks Papua New Guinea sliding even further down the RSF World Press Freedom Index. Already it is a lowly 62nd out of 180 countries after falling 15 places in 2021.

Some key points:

• Article 42 of the Papua New Guinea Constitution states that “Every person has the right to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.” (Our emphasis)

• Article 43 of the Constitution further states that “Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to manifest and propagate their religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

• These provisions in the Constitution reflect the importance of media freedom in Papua New Guinea and the commitment to a free, diverse, and independent media environment. There are existing laws in PNG that support these principles.

• In September 2005, Pacific Journalism Review published a complete edition devoted to “media ethics and accountability” which is available online here. In the Introduction, the late Professor Claude-Jean Bertrand, a global expert in M*A*S (Media Accountability Systems) and media councils and free press in democracies, wrote: “Accountability implies being accountable, accountable to whom? To the public, obviously. [i.e. Not to governments]. While regulation involves only political leaders and while self-regulation involves only the media industry, media accountability involves press, profession and public.” The PJR edition cited published templates and guidelines for public accountability systems.

• On World Press Freedom Day 2019, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, declared: “No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”

• On 12 November 2019, the Melanesia Media Freedom Forum (MMFF) was established and it declared: “A better understanding is needed of the role of journalism in Melanesian democracies. Awareness of the accountability role played by journalists and the need for them to be able to exercise their professional skills without fear is critical to the functioning of our democracies.”

• The Forum also noted: “The range of threats to media freedom is increasing. These include restrictive legislation, intimidation, political threats, legal threats and prosecutions, assaults and police and military brutality, illegal detention, online abuse, racism between ethnic groups and the ever-present threats facing particularly younger and female reporters who may face violence both on the job and within their own homes.” The full declaration is here.

• Media academics who were also present at this inaugural Forum made a declaration of their own in support of the journalists, saying that they “expressed strong concerns about issues of human rights, violence, and freedom of expression. They also expressed concerns about the effect of stifling legislation that had the power to impose heavy fines and prison sentences on journalists.” (Our emphasis). The full statement is here.

APMN proposals regarding PNG’s Draft Media Policy:

• That the Ministry immediately discard the proposed policy of legislating the PNG media Council and regulating journalists and media which would seriously undermine media freedom in Papua New Guinea;

• That the Ministry extend the public consultation timeframe with a realistic deadline to engage Papua New Guinean public interest and stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue;

• That the Ministry ensures a process of serious consultation with stakeholders such as the existing PNG Media Council, which do not appear to have had much opportunity to respond, journalists, media organisations and many other NGOs that need to be heard; and

• That the Ministry consult a wider range of media research and publications and take guidance from media freedom organisations, journalism schools at universities, and an existing body of knowledge about media councils and systems.

• Essentially journalism is not a crime, but a fundamental pillar of democracy as espoused through the notion of a Fourth Estate and media must be free to speak truth to power in the public interest not the politicians’ interest.

Dr Heather Devere, formerly Director of Practice for the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies; Dr David Robie, founding Professor of Pacific Journalism and director of the Pacific Media Centre, convenor of Pacific Media Watch and a former Head of Journalism at the University of Papua New Guinea; and Dr Philip Cass, a PNG-born researcher and journalist who was chief subeditor of the Times of Papua New Guinea and worked on Wantok, and who is currently editor of Pacific Journalism Review.

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