Freedom of expression undermined during general elections

Expression

Papua New Guinea held general elections between 24th June and 8th July 2017. As reported by the CIVICUS Monitor research partner, the country’s Media Council anticipated increased difficulty in terms of news coverage during the election period.

A few days prior to the election, NBC journalist Reilly Kanamon and his staff in Manus were reportedly threatened with violence by supporters of a provincial candidate. The threats came over unsubstantiated rumours spread on social media that seven ballot boxes were smuggled into the province.

According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), violations of freedom of expression occurred during the election period. For example, RSF reported that in Port Moresby media were prevented from taking pictures in the main voting centre. In addition, as a result of a complaint from the head of the Electoral Commission, Patilias Gamato, a court banned well-known blogger Martyn Namorong from publishing any “defamatory remarks”.  The blogger was criticising the chaos in the country around the election period and referred to the Electoral Commissioner as a “tomato”, a reference that according to Gamato was defamatory. Regarding Namorong's case, RSF declared that:

“Journalists and citizen-journalists have a duty to inform the public about what has gone wrong during an election.The courts and the authorities must recognize that Martyn Namorong committed no crime and must therefore lift the censorship order imposed on him”.

In a separate issue at the end of June 2017, the Media Council sought expert opinion on the country's 2016 Cybercrime Act. Experts will analyse the law within the framework of freedom of expression protections contained in the constitution and how the Act could impact this right. The absence of government consultations with the media industry prior to the Act being passed in 2016 remains of great concern to media outlets and organisations in the country.