Pacific Freedom Forum, Cook Islands– The proposed closure of Facebook aimed at replacing it with a state-led platform will severely limit freedom of speech and access to information in Papua New Guinea, says regional Article 19 watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

“We are concerned at the implications of what appears to be a poorly thought out reaction to criticism of government via social media networks such as Facebook,” says PFF Chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

“The news of such an important announcement came through a one on one with a journalist following the Communications Minister on a constituency visit to Bulolo, when it surely deserved broader scrutiny and follow up questions from all media during a special press briefing,” she says.

Co-Chair Alex Rheeney, from Papua New Guinea, says the whole notion is takes momentum away from messaging on the digital revolution and new media technologies led by the PNG government in the build up to APEC, later this year.

“A sense of ownership and engagement by everyday Papua New Guineaneans has taken hold on Social media. Even if its not the kind of commentary government may not wish to hear, surely it would be counterproductive for the nation to turn its back on a platform that has done lots to inform and shape public debates on important issues,” he says.

Co-Chair Bernadette Carreon from Palau says its essential that more thought and planning go into plans to review Facebook, and suggests it may well be that the platform can stay online throughout the research process.

“It’s very unusual to suggest that the benefits of anything be taken away from everybody just so that something which isn’t as useful can be explored. The impact on voice and sharing of ideas amongst PNG citizens should be enough to make Basil and his cabinet reconsider.

If a shutdown is still required, PFF calls on the research team to at least seek input from Facebook direct, and to ensure independent media representation is part of any advisory group.”

The Pacific Freedom Forum is a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.