|The worst drought in 50 years and a debilitating economic crisis combined
to keep the pressure on Prime Minister Bill Skate's government. But he did
not respond with the kind of punitive moves against the press used by some
of his predecessors. Despite his general support for press freedom, Skate
returned from visits to Malaysia and China impressed by the favorable treatment
their governments receive from a censored press. He suggested establishing
a journalists exchange program between China and Papua New Guinea so that
local journalists could learn from their Chinese colleagues to be supportive
of the government. Local journalists openly ridiculed the idea.
Reporters reacted angrily in August when a local police commander deployed
armed police units around a courthouse to bar reporters from attending the
trial of a woman accused of videotaping her sexual encounter with a government
minister. After vigorous protests from several news organizations, the trial
was opened to the press and police authorities apologized for their action.
The country's two outspoken daily newspapers -- the National,
which is owned by a Malaysian company; and the Post-Courier,
which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation -- were the targets of
anti-foreign comments from conservative politicians, one of whom, Deputy
Prime Minister Michael Nali, threatened to investigate the ownership status
of the papers. Since there are no restrictions on foreign ownership of the
media, Nali's threats amounted to nothing more than jingoistic bluster.