NORTHCOTE, VIC - Women reporters with the National Broadcasting Corporation and EMTV have won the Russell Hunter Awards for Young Papua New Guinea Journalists of the Year.
When Scottish-Australian journalist Russell Hunter – who was living in Brisbane - died in July, a group of friends decided that the most appropriate way to memorialise him was through sponsoring an award for young journalists in PNG.
Russell had lived and worked in PNG for five years and had met his wife, Martha Waradin, there.
The friends, who all worked as journalists in PNG, are Tim Bowden, Paul Byrnes, Rowan Callick, Sean Dorney, Chris Lee and Bernard Shirley.
The awards were coordinated by Rowan Callick and Patrick Matbob, a lecturer in journalism at Divine Word University, who both worked alongside Russell Hunter with Word Publishing in PNG.
"What great Independence news,” the NBC’s Lyanne Togiba, winner of the main award, responded. “I am truly humbled and grateful for this recognition for NBC and myself as a journalist.
“Might I also add there are so many great young journalists coming up, thanks to the drive, motivation and mentorship from our respective newsrooms.
“Thank you for such a great initiative through this award. It will no doubt encourage greater journalism in being persistent and holding authorities to account for our people."
Ms Togiba’s main award is worth K2,500 and the runner’s-up award, worth K1,250, goes to Julie Badui Owa of EMTV.
Mr Matbob said on behalf of the judges: “It is especially significant that we should announce these awards on Independence Day.
“The outstanding work of these two brave and smart young PNG journalists results from their independence of inquiry and of judgment.
“We commend the support of their editorial managers who help provide the frameworks and the resources for them to expose serious wrongs to the light of public attention,” Mr Matbob said.
“We also wish, in the spirit in which these awards were arranged, to applaud the vital work being done by all journalists day by day in PNG, who provide a vital way for ordinary Papua New Guineans to have their voices heard.”
Russell Hunter came to PNG in 1980, leaving a promising future as Britain’s youngest daily newspaper editor at The Worcester Evening News to become chief sub-editor with Word Publishing, publisher of Wantok, The Times of PNG and New Nation).
He went on to work with Niugini Nius, which developed into The National.
Russell played a significant role in training and mentoring a generation of Papua New Guinean sub-editors and other journalists.
He left PNG to work in Australia, where he became acting chief sub-editor with The Australian.
Subsequently he moved to Fiji, becoming editor-in-chief of The Fiji Times and then chief executive of The Fiji Sun, before a spell as development editor with The Samoa Observer.
He returned to Australia where his novel Solid Oil was published in 2014.
Russell was married to Martha Waradin, a former administrator with Word Publishing, who died in June 2020 in Townsville. They leave two daughters, Shonagh and Rhianna, who live in Australia.
The judges said that Ms Togiba has broken a series of outstanding stories through her persistence and reporting skills, in the face of considerable challenges including from relevant authorities.
These include a suite of ground-breaking Covid stories: the PNG students stranded in Wuhan when the Covid pandemic emerged; the first (imported) Covid case in PNG; an interview with the first Papua New Guinea to be identified with Covid; the risk of Port Moresby General Hospital not being able to manage Covid pressures, and funding irregularities in the government’s Covid response.
Ms Togiba also broke the story of a massive proposed sand mining operation in Madang by Niugini Sands Ltd, a Singaporean registered company with Chinese interests, which was strongly opposed by Sumkar residents on environmental and other grounds. Eventually the company halted the project, citing that such public debate had influenced its decision.
The judges said Ms Owa has produced excellent reports from Lae revealing business scandals and government failures, including a Chinese-owned sausage factory ordered closed due to many environmental and health issues and the lack of approvals, but reopened with the alleged involvement of bribes before being ordered shut again.
Ms Owa has also reported on the lack of supplies at Angau Hospital, with patients told to buy their own dressings and medicines and to treat themselves.
She exposed the shortfalls in government funding of Lae Secondary School and Gantom Primary School, in each case totalling hundreds of thousands of kina, and reported on a scandal where the National Housing Commission evicted people only to have a Chinese owned company acquire the vacated property.