| Pacific Media Watch | Edited extracts
AUCKLAND - Papua New Guinea’s two daily newspapers – the PNG Post-Courier and The National – which dominate the market, demonstrated “overwhelming deference” to the office of former prime minister Peter O’Neill, says a new report about the country’s media freedom.
Transparency International Papua New Guinea (TIPNG) released a preliminary statement from a research report saying it found “much wrong” with the PNG media.
Analysing a period from June 2017 to August 2018, the report examines the balance of coverage on governance issues in particular.
“The threats to PNG’s media freedom are most obvious when it comes to major national events that require objective reporting in the public interest,” the statement said.
“Recent instances where the ability of the media to report have been hampered by other interests (often political) include: the 2017 national election; the 2018 APEC leaders’ summit; the 2019 political transition after the ousting of O’Neill; and 2020 Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic public spending.
“Journalists in PNG are further disadvantaged by the lack of right to information legislation to enable them to obtain public documents from the state,” the statement added.
“In the absence of a right to information law in PNG the media outlets are further beholden to political interests as sources of information – which further erodes public trust in news outlets.”
Transparency International also said: “While PNG has enjoyed a relatively free media, this has been under threat in recent years. For instance, the World Press Freedom Index assessed PNG to have a press whose independence is “endangered”, with a corresponding drop of eight places in rank since last year.”
Commenting on the report, Scott Waide, Lae bureau chief of EMTV News, told Pacific Media Watch, “what we have here is a crisis on multiple fronts.
“Debate is stifled, journalists are threatened, abused and ridiculed, editors, CEOs and board members are put under pressure – you are excluded from events or deliberately not informed,” Waide said.
“Politicians feel invincible because of the image we reinforce in the media. They want us to report the facts but not report the why and how. They avoid live debates, or live interviews, unless they feel they have some control over them.
“They avoid interviews unless you push them into a corner, if they cannot fully control them, they will influence them.
“Politicians are put on a pedestal and adored, corruption is normalised and legalised. Politicians feel that government policy should not be questioned, and critical thinking is largely absent in public debate.”
The problems stemmed from the overall decline in the quality of training at universities where students took journalism as second or third choice.
“As well as the steady exit of senior journalists, taking with them years of accumulated institutional knowledge, younger journalists leave after an average of five years, there is always a constant void that needs filling in newsrooms and the absence of critical debate driven by the media,” Waide said.
He pointed out there was a general absence of proactive action to question, analyse and explain bad government decisions, and fact checking of political statements was non-existent.
“The solution is cross-sectoral and can’t be done only by media organisations.”