Attacks on the Press 2001: Papua New Guinea

Although the Papua New Guinean press remains one of the freest in the Pacific, political unrest in 2001 led to several violent episodes in which journalists were attacked.

With the exception of Papua New Guinea’s largest radio broadcaster, the state-run National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), all media outlets are privately owned. Of the three major newspapers, foreign companies own two. There is only one television channel, EM-TV.

In mid-March, soldiers staged an armed protest against government proposals to reduce the army’s size amid rumors that Australia would deploy troops on the island. When Prime Minister Mekere Morauta failed to attend a meeting with the protesters, they rioted and attacked journalists reporting on the conflict. Kevin Ricketts, a reporter for the Australian Associated Press; Richard Dinnen, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC); and Peter Dip, a cameraman for ABC, were beaten by soldiers before police escorted them away. Soldiers stole ABC equipment, including Dinnen’s two-way radio.

NBC managing director Bosky Tonny was fired in March, soon after Prime Minister Morauta issued a statement accusing NBC of acting “totally irresponsibly” in airing “incorrect and inflammatory statements” about the military standoff. Despite his termination, Tonny told the Malaysian-owned daily National that, “The government does not control [NBC’s] program and editorial output despite its 100 percent ownership. It is the people’s radio and it must remain that way.”

In June, students at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby conducted a sit-in outside of government offices to protest the privatization of public utilities and foreign influence over the country’s economic policies. After five days, police broke up the peaceful demonstrations by opening fire and killing four protesters. An EM-TV film crew was threatened during the violence, and their car was set on fire. Two reporters for the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, the nation’s largest daily, were also punched and kicked by protesters while reporting at a hospital. As ABC reporter Richard Dinnen wrote, “Clearly, journalists working in PNG can expect retaliation or retribution if people disagree with their reporting of the events.”

In August, NBC suspended news director Joe Ealadona over his coverage of the military and student protests. Ealadona’s suspension notice said the broadcasts “threatened national security.”

On August 30, the government granted autonomy to the island of Bougainville, ending the province’s 10-year struggle for independence, which killed up to 20,000 people and has been called the bloodiest conflict in the Pacific since World War II. As part of the peace deal, Bougainville will receive financial assistance to establish a government infrastructure. Under these plans, the island’s local media, currently limited to one radio station that broadcasts from Radio Australia, are expected to expand and develop.

March 20

Kevin Ricketts, Australian Associated Press
Richard Dinnen, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Peter Dip, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Three Australian journalists were attacked by soldiers during a military riot in the capital, Port Moresby.

In mid-March, armed soldiers staged a violent protest against government proposals to reduce the size of the armed forces. The soldiers were also angered by rumors that Australian troops would be deployed on the island.

About 100 soldiers stole weapons from the barracks armory. When Prime Minister Mekere Morauta failed to show for a meeting with the protesters, the soldiers rioted and attacked journalists reporting on the conflict. Ricketts, Dinnen, and Dip were beaten by soldiers before being escorted away by police.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Dinnen said he was struck by a length of pipe. A soldier then told him, that he “knew where I lived and that he would deal with ‘you *** Australians’ in a most violent manner,” according to Dinnen. During the scuffle, soldiers stole ABC equipment, including Dinnen’s two-way radio.