Government in Papua New Guinea must stop political interference in the country’s news operations, says regional media monitors PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.

“We are calling on the leadership of the PNG government to immediately drop its suspension of a senior public broadcaster”, says PFF Chair, Monica Miller.

“There is no evidence the journalist was engaged in anything other than legitimate news gathering – journalism is not a crime.”

Lae news bureau chief and senior journalist Scott Waide had reported weeks of public criticism over claims about luxury cars imported by government from Italy.

In the last week, he reported a call from Genesis Ketan, director of PNGFM news, for a public investigation into assaults on EMTV colleaguesby rioting security workers, angry over unpaid overtime following the controversial APEC summit in Port Moresby.

Two journalists were punched, kicked, stripped of equipment and had it smashed in front of them – with security workers ripping the shirt of the female journalist.

Says Miller, “This cowardly mob assault on journalists doing their duty must have been terrifying – and once again highlights the need for better security.”

Then the text of what was described as an internal email to all EMTV staff leaked online today, revealing EMTV managers critical of Waide’s suspension, as going against “our responsibility to report on all views, with freedom and fairness.”

However PFF notes that EMTV managers also warned staff against making public comment on the suspension, threatening unspecified action.

A social media post from PNG writer Vincent Moses was picked up by Pacific Media Watch. Screenshot / Pacific Media Centre

Welcome criticism

Speaking from Palau, PFF co-Chair Bernadette Carreon welcomed the criticism from EMTV of political interference from the top.

“We agree with colleagues in Papua New Guinea who describe this as a huge attack on media freedom.

“Instead of threatening staff,” says Carreon, “EMTV managers might consider backing their own comments and embracing freedoms of speech, as guaranteed under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and PNG’s own constitution.”

As well as calling for an immediate end to the suspension, PFF wants Waide’s call for an investigation into the assaults to be widened to include continued political interference in the public broadcaster.

Not the first time

From Melanesia, PFF co-Chair Robert Iroga in the Solomon Islands says that “our PNG colleagues report this is not the first time this has happened.”

Most recently, he says, in the 2013 sacking, suspensions and demotions for journalists reporting on controversies involving many millions of dollars in resources and tax dollars.

“Enough of this endless censorship when things get tough”, says Iroga.

“We need urgent steps from PNG government and partners to ensure journalism is not punished, and that journalists are safe to do their jobs”, he says, referring to regional and global diplomacy in defence of free speech, such as from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Online, dozens had already protested the attacks highlighted by Waide, calling for action under the hashtag #justice4journos and declaring they “stand with” Ketan. By late this afternoon, dozens more had shared news of Waide’s suspension, under a #StandWithScott hashtag.

PFF chairs say the Waide suspension is an added injustice, and must be judged against a long policy background of hostility towards a free press from PNG partners like Australia and China.

PFF welcomed early scrutiny from Transparency International PNG which called on EMTV Online to clarify whether Waide “may have been allegedly silenced by political interests.”