THE Papua New Guinea government has moved to seize dominance of the domestic broadcasting market, buying via state-owned enterprise Telikom the most viewed free-to-air television station as the countdown begins for the next national election.
The timing is immaculate, as highly politicised PNG moves past the halfway mark of its five-year parliament.
Telikom chief executive - Michael Donnelly said that EM TV’s chief attraction for his company was “convergence” - the opportunity to channel increased content and other ICT services to its customers. The station employs 160 staff, whose jobs are all safe, Mr Donnelly pledged.
Telikom also operates FM100, which claims the widest radio coverage and reach in the country, and is especially influential in current affairs, and music station HotFM 97.1. Last year it bought internet and data company Datec from Steamships.
Last year Digicel, the Irish mobile phone company that has swiftly revolutionised communications in PNG and the rest of the Pacific, launched free-to-air TV WAN, while Fijian broadcasting entrepreneur Richard Broadbridge introduced Click TV.
Both employ some journalists, but their focus is principally entertainment.
The government owns the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation, which was established in the tradition of the ABC’s operations in PNG during colonial days.
It runs Kundu 2 TV, which has been the major current affairs rival to EM TV, and radio stations throughout the country.
The print market, in comparison, lacks direct government involvement.
The daily national newspapers are the Post Courier, chiefly owned by News Corp, The National, owned by Sarawak-based Tiong Hiew-king, a Malaysian billionaire who also owns newspapers in Malaysia and Hong Kong and PNG logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.
The major Christian denominations, led by the Catholic Church, own the weekly Wantok, the only newspaper in Tok Pisin, the most spoken language.
Newcomer to print is credit business millionaire Wesley Raminai, who, like prime minister Peter O’Neill, comes from the Southern Highlands. He has launched the Sunday and Midweek Chronicle. Raminai appears to be positioning his papers to go daily before the election.
The government has meanwhile sought to clamp down on PNG’s rampantly critical and often highly defamatory social media - or to shift its culture. But it has so far been mostly frustrated in such attempts.
In a remarkably fluid and challenging media scene, the government is certainly developing a capacity to dominate broadcasting. But turning that capacity to its political advantage is a more challenging step - not least because of the still strongly independent ethos of PNG’s journalism profession.
Meanwhile Titi Gabi of PNG Loop reports that Peter O’Neill met with executives of the newly formed PNG Media Workers Association last weekend.
The prime minister pledged government support for the development and strengthening of the PNG media industry.
He was briefed on the need for government and private sector support for an industry viewed by many people as substandard.
The demise some time ago of the PNG Media Council left the industry in disarray with a string of media rights abuses swept under the carpet.
Mr O’Neill said a fair and independent media was important for development and he was ready to assist but was quick to add that he will not interfere.