New PNG media development policy poses threats for country's media:
Vittoria De Bortoli
Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
Various concerns have been raised about media independence and press freedom in Papua New Guinea following the release, on February 5, of a draft of the new media development policy, proposed by the Minister of Communications, Timothy Masiu, which could lead to greater government control over the country's already relatively free media (Asia Pacific Report, 2023).
The policy outlines "goals and strategies for the use of media as a tool for development" and includes provisions for regulating media and journalists in the country (International Federation of Journalists, 2023).
The government announced a swift 12-day period for public review, which was deemed too short by the media and stakeholders to analyze the details of the draft and study its national and social impact and long-term implications. Following criticism from the Community Coalition Against Corruption (CCAC), a collective community network against corruption in PNG, Minister Timothy Masiu extended the deadline by one week from February 20 (Asia Pacific Report, 2023).
The proposal includes measures to prevent unauthorized access to "sensitive information" through the establishment of a Government Information Risk Management Division (GIRM) within the Department of Information and Communications Technology, and also re-established the Media Council of PNG (MCPNG), serving as a regulatory agency with licensing authority for journalists. (Asia Pacific Report, 2023)
However, the government's intention to impose greater control over certain aspects of the media, including the MCPNG, is causing alarm. Indeed, this body, which is currently independent, would then be placed under the PNG Communications Department. The risk is that the government could use the council to pressure journalists to cover what it wants, formalizing political control of newsrooms (The Guardian, 2023).
The main purpose of the law is to regulate content that is posted on social media, which is certainly an easy way to distribute disinformation in PNG. However, journalists are also at risk of getting involved, in fact media and reporters will have to apply for accreditation or licensing to do their work, and in case of violations, so in case the published material does not please the government, there are provisions that could allow the government to revoke the licenses. The current draft, therefore, restricts the publication of any anti-government material (International Federation of Journalists, 2023).
Not to mention that the policy does not address important obstacles that journalists face in the country, including the need for higher pay or for training, and it does not specify who will be able to protect this category of workers in the case of violence, harassment, and intimidation (The Guardian, 2023).
This draft represents yet another attempt at media censorship, which is a growing problem in all Pacific island countries, and comes on the heels of the PNG government's decision, dating back to September 2022, to vet all international journalists before allowing them into PNG (The Guardian, 2023).
Sources and further reading:
Pacific Media Watch, “New PNG media policy will lead to government control of news groups”, Asia Pacific Report (February 20, 2023). Retrieved on February 23, 2023, from: https://asiapacificreport.nz/2023/02/20/new-png-media-policy-will-lead-to-government-control-of-news-groups/
International Federation of Journalists “Papua New Guinea: Concerns raised at swift review period for media policy” (February 17, 2023). Retrieved on February 23, 2023, from: https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/papua-new-guinea-concerns-raised-at-swift-review-period-for-media-policy.html
Harriman B. “Papua New Guinea’s draft media policy is an attempt to legitimise government control over journalists”. The Guardian (February 21, 2023). Retrieved on February 23, 2023, from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2023/feb/22/papua-new-guineas-draft-media-policy-is-an-attempt-to-legitimise-government-control-over-journalists
Picture source: Benar News (May 3, 2017)