THE international watchdog on media freedom and journalists’ rights, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has condemned “the many media freedom violations” that it says have occurred during the current Papua New Guinea general elections.
In enumerating a number of specific cases of media restriction by government officials, the organisation points out that journalists covering the elections in Madang were denied access by police and the now notorious electoral commission and that media were not allowed to film or take photos in Port Moresby’s main tally room.
RSF also said that “amid many reports on social networks of vote-buying and violence” authorities also took alarming measures against citizen journalists.
It cited the case of blogger and political commentator Martyn Namorong who referred to electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato as ‘Tomato’ in one of his many posts criticising election process.
“Gamato brought a suit claiming he had been ‘seriously injured in his character, credit and reputation’ in Namorong’s post, which went viral,” RSF said.
It quoted Gamato as defending his decision to sue by saying: “I don't look like a tomato, I'm a human being. So that's defamatory, so I had to take him to court.”
Reporters Without Borders also took exception to the national court issuing a gag order banning Namorong from publishing further “defamatory remarks” on Facebook and Twitter.
“Journalists and citizen-journalists have a duty to inform the public about what has gone wrong during an election,” RSF said.
“The courts and the authorities must recognise that Martyn Namorong committed no crime and must therefore lift the censorship order imposed on him.
“A country cannot claim to be democratic just because it holds elections. It must also respect and protect media freedom, which is the cornerstone of every democracy,” RSF stated.
Namorong’s lawyer, Christine Copland, said her client had no chance to speak when the gag order was imposed because court officials said they could not locate him to serve the documents.
The writer’s response to the order was to post a photo of himself blindfolded and gagged.
Before the court hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Namorong said: “I am as cool as a cucumber about tomorrow’s hearing as my lawyers are no couch potatoes.”