9 Mar 2023

More calls for PNG govt to abandon proposed media laws

8:59 am on 9 March 2023
Post Courier newsroom, Port Moresby, June 2017.Post Courier newsroom, Port Moresby, June 2017.

Post Courier newsroom, Port Moresby, June 2017. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A growing chorus of voices is urging the Papua New Guinea government to abandon a proposed new media law.

The "surprise policy" was announced early last month and stakeholders were initially given a brief window for consultations which triggered complaints from local and regional media outlets, academia and democracy watchdogs.

Following strong condemnation to the way the draft regulation had been introduced, PNG's Communications Minister Timothy Masiu responded by extending the feedback period for a week.

He also directed the information department to faciliate an additional one-day workshop to allay concerns of media stakeholders, held on March 2.

While the Communications Ministry has not given any indication that it will stop finalising the new law, Australian National University's Research Fellow Amanda Watson from the Department of Pacific Affairs, told RNZ Pacific the plan should be scrapped.

Dr Amanda Watson

Dr Amanda Watson Photo: Australian National University

"It took me and others by surprise that there was a media policy emerging from the government of PNG. There was no prior indication that they were working on this," Dr Watson, who was one of several regional media experts that made a submission opposing the draft regulation, said.

"The first draft of the policy was quite broad and covered a number of things so it is a bit hard to say what might possibly happen if they go ahead with a media policy."

Dr Watson pointed out that PNG was ranked "reasonably well" by Reporters Without Borders, the global press freedom tracker.

She said a number of bodies, such as Transparency International PNG, Media Council of PNG, and the UN Resident Coordinator, are urging strongly for the whole process to be disbanded.

Among them is the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) which has warned that the new policy law is a "red flag" for the country.

The regional media watchdog "expressed grave concerns" about the draft policy because it "will limit journalists' ability to report freely and impact the quality of public information".

The group's chair Robert Iroga from Solomon Islands, said "the public right to know will be affected by restrictions and regulations of the media industry".

"The intention of the policy is to introduce a council which effectively acts as a regulatory agency with licensing authority over journalists - this has rightly spread alarm bells throughout the Pacific," he said.

What is the issue?

Dr Watson said there is no problem that has been identified that needs to be addressed.

"We are hoping that one possible outcome [of the consultation] will be rather than version three, four and five that we reach a point where there can be agreement that there is no need for a media policy."

She said politicians all over the world were "grappling with critiques" they recieve on social media but that does not mean they should regulate the mainstream media.

There needs to be a distinction made more clearly between professional working journalists who adhere to the Media Council of PNG's code of ethics and other forms of expression on social media, she said.

"PNG does have the Cybercrime Code Act already so perhaps a way to look at the social media landscape would be a review of the existing policy."

"But there is no need for a media policy that includes the mainstream media that talks about licensing journalists and so on. There are good reasons why that should not be introduced in the best interests of Papua New Guinea's democracy," she added.