PNG journalist: "We no longer enjoy media freedom".


PNG journalists threatened and intimidated

As the world commemorated World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2018, journalists in Papua New Guinea raised serious concerns over the lack of media freedom in the country.

A senior journalist in Papua New Guinea, Titi Gabi, said that there is no media freedom in the country and journalists often work in fear. She also said that local media has become "a public relations entity for the powers that be".

Gabi also asserted that:

"With interference from outside influence, right up to setting the news agenda to bribing journalists to threats to threats of court action against journalists. There is a lot of censorship, there is a lot of control…we no longer enjoy media freedom so today it is really sad times here in PNG".

In April 2018, media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had also expressed concerns over violence faced by PNG journalists. According to RSF, some public officials threatened journalists, thus contributing to a level of self-censorship. The CIVICUS Monitor had previously documented the case of a journalist from the PNG Post Courier, Franky Kapin, who had been assaulted by staff from the Office of the Governor of Morobe Province who alleged that Kapin's reporting was biased.

RSF also said that PNG authorities have repeatedly prevented the media and citizen journalists from freely covering the elections in June and July 2017 and that journalists were reportedly still prevented from covering the fate of those being held at the Australia-run refugee detention center on Manus Island. In the latest RSF media freedom rankings, PNG has dropped two places to 53rd out of 180 countries. 

Refugees on Manus Island use social media to report on abuses 

In April 2018, Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian poet and journalist who has been detained by the Australian government for more than four years on the remote Manus Island, was interviewed by Pen America. He spoke about how the government has banned journalists from accessing the prison camps for so-called nation security reasons, thus limiting reporting on the conditions for refugees in the camp. Refugees have also been denied access to mobile phones for more than three years and are only able to get information out about their situation on phones smuggled in.

During the interview, Boochani stated that:

“For me, using social media is unavoidable because the government banned journalists from having access to the prison camps. I have been using social media to report, and when I tweet something or share on Facebook, media make contact with me to get more information. Also, I am able to update the refugee movement and advocates in Australia and their work can be stronger because they have access to this information”.

Australia’s policy of detaining and processing refugees on Manus Island has resulted in the systematic violation of the rights of hundreds of individuals. More than 800 refugees and asylum-seekers have been detained on the island since 2013. The refugees have been effectively forced to choose between returning to repression in their home countries or moving to a similarly abusive environment on Nauru.

PNG water workers strike

On 14th March 2018, staff from the Papua New Guinea state-owned water and sanitation provider, Eda Ranu, reportedly went on strike, protesting government plans to merge Eda Ranu with Water PNG. Eda Ranu provides water and sewage services to Port Moresby, whilst Water PNG does the same for other centres in PNG. While workers feared losing their jobs, the Minister for State Owned Enterprise, William Duma, assured them that no jobs would be lost. "We are mindful of job security and the rest of the issues that arise when these sorts of things happen, so we have made it very clear from the start there will be no loss of jobs".

Peaceful Assembly

Protest by PNG activist at AGM of mining company in Toronto

In April 2018, PNG indigenous activist and environment rights defender Cressida Kuala, who is the founder of Porgera Red Wara Women’s Association, traveled to Toronto where the mining company Barrick Gold is located. Kuala updated shareholders and others about the current situation for communities living near the mine in Porgera, as supporters organised a protest outside.

According to Kuala, the gold mine continues to contaminate waterways and erode the land. In 2017, numerous houses in Wingima Village – just next to the open pit - were burnt down again by heavily armed police who guard the mine. In July 2017, chemical waste had allegedly been dumped by the company, causing serious burns to more than 150 men, women and children. In October 2017, a 15-year-old boy, was run over and killed by one of the mine’s loader trucks. The activist also said that more than a hundred women had been raped by Barrick’s security guards. In 2016, women who live near the mine submitted a letter to officials at the fifth annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva demanding compensation from the company.

The mine is a joint venture of Barrick Gold, a Chinese producer called Zijin Mining Group, and Mineral Resources Enga, which divides its five percent interest between the local provincial government and landowners. Human Rights Watch and other industry watchdog groups have documented human rights abuses, including violence from the Porgera gold mine security personnel, some of whom threatened victims with arrest if they tried to complain to the local authorities.