Pacific Media Watch newsdesk
A national trade union in Papua New Guinea today blamed State Enterprises Minister William Duma for causing a media freedom furore at the country’s premier television broadcaster EMTV as a general election looms in June.
The crisis has led to the suspension of the news chief and a walkout by 19 journalists and news workers last week that forced the channel to repeat its Wednesday 6pm news bulletin the following night.
Following the walkout, EMTV interim CEO Lesieli Vete suspended the news team and reportedly hired stand-in staff after walk-in interviews.
A former sports reporter, Dinnierose Raiko, who was promoted to EMTV sales department late last year, was said to be now acting news editor.
The PNG Trade Union Council (PNGTUC) has appealed to Prime Minister James Marape to intervene and for head of news and current affairs Sincha Dimara — suspended for 21 days without pay for alleged “insubordination” — to be reinstated without penalty.
Dimara is one of Papua New Guinea’s most experienced journalists with 33 years in the industry.
She was reportedly suspended for broadcasting stories about the arrest of Australian businessman Jamie Pang, including criticism of police and criminal procedure in the case.
‘Blackout’ of Pang news
The coverage centred on Pang, who had first been arrested in 2021 after police discovered an illegal firearms cache and an alleged meth lab in the Sanctuary Hotel Resort and Spa in the capital Port Moresby, where Pang was group operations manager.
The PNGTUC accused minister Duma of “instigating the whole mess” by ordering a “blackout [of] all news on Jamie Pang” and on the performances of state enterprises.
“All national leaders are mandated to serve the people’s interest and must be seen to uphold and promote tenants of democracy and not otherwise,” said PNGTUC acting general secretary Anton Sekum in a statement.
“The powers vested in them to make decisions over public utilities and finance should not be used as a stick to control media freedom specifically, and for that matter, generally, violate democratic rights of people.”
William Duma, as minister responsible for the Telikom Holdings Ltd which owns EMTV through Media Niugini Ltd, had “intimidated the management of EMTV and Telikom” by making it known that he would not approve funding to relocate EMTV studios to the Telikom Rumana Haus if EMTV published any “negative news” about Pang and any state-owned enterprises.
Sekum said the Prime Minister would need to “confirm for public benefit” whether minister Duma’s action reflected the official position of his government.
“This country cannot afford to be led by leaders pushing self-serving ulterior agendas any more. We need leaders serving the real interest of the people more now than any other time in our short history,” he said.
‘Worst ever reward’
Sekum described the suspension of Dimara without pay “for doing her job right was the worst ever reward for diligently serving EMTV for over 33 years”.
The PNGTUC said it had been reliably informed that there had been no bias in the Jamie Pang coverage that Dimara had been penalised for.
“But what is of more concern to the PNGTUC as the national workers’ rights organisation and as a defender of our democracy is the fact that bad politics [has] crept into the media space to control media freedom,” he said.
“Penalising Sincha for doing the right thing is a classic example.”
Sekum called on the prime minister to “restore some sense into the whole affair” by ensuring that Sincha Dimara and her television crew would be reinstated to their jobs without loss of entitlements.
“Journalists are workers and we will stand up for them until they get justice,” he said.
Call for sacking of EMTV CEO
Sekum also called for the sacking of the EMTV interim CEO Vete, accusing her of violating media freedom in breach of the constitution.
The government and EMTV management made no immediate response to the PNGTUC’s claims.
However, an internal memo by EMTV to staff said the decision of the news team to walk out in protest and not produce the news bulletin on February 17 was “insubordination”.
In a separate letter to the Post-Courier in response to a news story on February 18, EMTV management claimed Dimara had been suspended because she allowed and stood by “news coverage stories promoting Jamie Pang as a role model”.
Meanwhile, Lae staff members of EMTV held a press conference tonight and reaffirmed their support for their colleagues in Port Moresby.
Global media freedom watchdogs such as the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have condemned Dimara’s suspension and called for her immediate reinstatement. The PNG Media Council, Pacific Freedom Forum and Pacific Media Watch have also criticised the suspension.
Papua New Guinea is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz