NOOSA - In the weeks before the recent APEC meeting in Port Moresby, the eminent Papua New Guinean journalist, Scott Waide – assisted by his listeners and viewers throughout PNG, gathered first-hand evidence that the health ministry had been lying about the availability of drugs and medical equipment across the country.
It wasn’t the first time that EMTV’s senior reporter had identified and related factual stories that the PNG government found embarrassing, but this one – implicating powerful and controversial health minister Dr Puka Temu - apparently seriously stung the government. You can read the story here.
But on Saturday 17 November, in an EMTV news bulletin, another story about the PNG Maserati scandal was broadcast slap bang in the middle of the APEC leaders' summit, triggering the suspension of Scott Waide, a senior figure at the broadcaster.
The debacle of 40 luxury Maseratis imported for APEC had been hot news in PNG and globally for two weeks at great cost to the PNG government's credibility.
But the broadcast of footage from New Zealand that Saturday night proved a bridge too far for tender egos.
In the TV story prime minister Jacinta Ardern was quoted as saying she would not be travelling in a Maserati but in a Toyota Highlander. It came at a sensitive point and proved to be the trigger that saw Waide sidelined.
The story also said there were "serious questions raised about whether PNG is actually capable of pulling this summit off".
In Auckland this morning, Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie said he understood the item objected to by the PNG government was the NZ Newshub item about the Maseratis controversy that was rebroadcast by EMTV News on 17 November.
Prof Robie described the action of suspending Waide as “shameful and a blow to media independence and freedom of information in Papua New Guinea”.
He said it was clear to anybody monitoring PNG affairs and issues that Scott Waide was one of the country’s outstanding journalists with a great deal of courage and integrity, and an example to all reporters in the Pacific.
Social media in PNG and beyond has today also been expressing outrage at what had happened to the popular and highly regarded journalist.
The PNG government's sensitivity to the story came against a background of it experiencing humiliating coverage of its preparations for APEC, which it hoped would be a triumph but had itself seriously tarnished by a mindless expenditure of as much as a billion kina.
The government had also watched the forum go off the rails as China and the US hijacked it as a platform for their own big power rivalry.
Commentator on PNG affairs Martyn Namorong told me that “EMTV management are supportive of Scott but are under political pressure.” The PNG government controls EMTV through Telikom PNG, which is state-owned.
In a message to its staff, EMTV has said it is addressing the Waide matter as being one of “the utmost importance and priority".
EMTV has emphasised that he has been suspended and not dismissed and it has warned its staff not to make “any comments or speculation to anyone outside EMTV, or on social media”.
EMTV and its masters should understand - bur obviously don't - that to punish a journalist for honest, straightforward and ethical investigative reporting is unacceptable whatever form it takes.