Papua New Guinea media council defends press role after government criticism

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea media council defends press role after government criticism Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape speaks in parliament after he was sworn in for his second term in Port Moresby, Aug. 9, 2022. Marape has recently criticized PNG media coverage, claiming it has created a bad perception of his government.
Andrew Kutan/AFP

Papua New Guinea’s media council says journalists in the country will continue to report the truth about its social problems despite criticism of the press by Prime Minister James Marape and his government.

Marape has been increasingly critical of the media since his reelection in August, following a violence-marred national vote that boosted the governing coalition to 100 of the 116 seats in parliament. 

He said last week that journalists were creating a bad perception of his government and he would look to hold the media and individual journalists accountable. His remarks followed another official’s criticism of graphic images of beheadings published by a newspaper.

“We must not pretend that violent crimes do not happen in our country,” Neville Choi, president of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, said in a statement. “The media has a responsibility to report on them as brutally, and as truthfully as they are allowed too.”

“Every day, editors and news managers make important moral and ethical decisions on how much positive change they can create for the betterment of our country’s future,” Choi said.

Papua New Guinea has a reputation for one of the highest rates of violent crime globally, particularly against women, though data is patchy. The police presence outside of centers such as the capital Port Moresby is thin to nonexistent. 

Marape said the right to freedom of expression in Papua New Guinea’s constitution is not absolute.

“The media is a powerful tool. The way they are plying their trade creates a very bad perception of this government,” he said. 

“We want to make sure that the proper and correct information goes out to the public. To our two print media companies: Have some sense of responsibility to the people. Run good stories. We all live in one house called PNG,” Marape said.

Papua New Guinea was ranked 62nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index this year, a deterioration from 45th place last year. Fiji, at 102 in the press freedom index, is the lowest ranked Pacific island country.

Papua New Guinea’s laws are relatively protective of press freedom, but journalists are faced with intimidation, direct threats, censorship, lawsuits and bribery attempts, making it a dangerous profession, the advocacy group said in its 2022 report.

It also said a lack of resources for investigative journalism has tended to encourage “copy and paste” journalism. The country has two main newspapers, one owned by media conglomerate News Corp. and the other by a Malaysian logging company. 

Choi said the media also reports on positive stories about the country’s development but can’t ignore problems such as “rife” alcoholism that is linked to violent crimes in Papua New Guinea.

The media, he said, “stands ready to work with the government in its responsibility to address current problem areas and create the conditions that allow Papua New Guineans to get out of the cycle of violence.” 


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