Papua New Guinea journalists threatened by soldiers
IN HAPPIER TIMES: Peter O'Neill MP talks while Sir Michael Somare and National Alliance
Party heavy Simon Kaiwi listen during government formation in East New Britain province
following the 2007 general election.
The month-long tussle for government legitimacy by Papua New Guinea’s politicians is beginning to take its toll on wider society with local journalists threatened by soldiers and their equipment removed.
PNG journalists Tauna George and Firmin Nanol were allegedly threatened by soldiers and a Department of Defence official following last week’s unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the Somare government via a military mutiny.
Port Moresby-based chair of Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF), Titi Gabi, said four PNGDF soldiers allegedly searched Mr George removing his equipment and threatening to shoot him on January 26, 2012.
“George, a resident at the barracks, had rushed to the front gates to see why shots were being fired randomly on the same morning. As he approached the main office to request an interview, four soldiers ordered him to sit down, searched him, removed his phone, notebook and biro, and threatened to shoot him,” she said.
The act of aggression was raised by PNG FM news director Belinda Kora at a press conference called by ex-army colonel Yaurra Sasa on the same day, compelling the colonel to apologise and order the return of Mr George’s equipment.
"An investigation into the officers who took it upon themselves to threaten the life of a journalist going about his job would help them better understand how to treat civilians and media workers during times of tension and upheaval. Anyone who has a gun pulled on them and a threat to shoot is a victim of a criminal act, regardless of timing or who is behind the firearm,” Ms Gabi added.
Firmin Nanol, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was also denied access to a press conference organised the same day.
According to Ms Gabi, Mr Nanol was shouted at by Department of Defence public relations officer and former journalist Benny Sandeka, who criticised the ABC for describing last week’s failed army mutiny a 'coup'.
Threats to the PNG media fraternity in recent days comes on the back of increasing incidences of self-censorship and intimidation within industry ranks. Journalists employed by public broadcasters National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and EMTV have noted unusual management decisions that delayed or spiked stories for 'imbalance'. In two cases, callers to a live NBC talkback show were asked on-air if their comments were for or against the O'Neill government.
The troubling times for PNG newsrooms is compounded by the current leadership vacuum created by the absence of the national media watchdog, PNG Media Council.
Speaking from American Samoa, PFF co-chair Monica Millar urged PNG journalists to reports all acts of intimidation and harassment.
"We encourage our PNG colleagues to discuss and report all acts of intimidation and harassment and promptly make all concerns known to other colleagues in the media. Self-censorship often results when intimidation, threats and silence become an accepted norm amongst journalists. We need to deal strongly and consistently with this on all fronts if we want to remain credible, independent and free".
Sir Michael Somare, who was reinstated as Prime Minister last December by the Supreme Court and Peter O'Neill, who was elected PM by parliament after the court invalidated his August 2, 2011 election, have refused to compromise despite calls by churches and the Australian government for the two rival camps to put aside their differences.