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Defending press freedom in the pacific is Australia's next challenge

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 27 May 2022


This should probably not come as a surprise, but there is some evidence that China is exercising undue influence over the media in the Pacific. and more particularly Papua New Guinea.

Our closest neighbour has robust social media platforms. Some of the material published online is highly defamatory, but some of reflects a nation which values press freedom, freedom of speech generally, and a highly competitive political environment.

The National Constitution of PNG guarantees freedom of speech and essentially guarantees press freedom. Action for defamation is rare in the PNG courts.

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One blog site, PNG Blogs, carries a piece this week purportedly from a PNG Post Courier journalist, alleging that reporters, and executives, of the Post Courier, and the second daily, the National, are effectively on the payroll of the PRC Embassy in Papua New Guinea.

That essence of the story is that journalists are regularly paid substantial sums for writing stories favourable to China's activities in Papua New Guinea and suppressing items that are critical.

I am not in a position to verify the claim. What I have done is consult my PNG contacts, including media contacts, to secure their views on the blog.

Without exception they believe there is substantial truth in the claims.

Reading the daily newspapers online as I do does from time to time raise questions in my mind about the number of pro-China stories in the daily media in PNG, most notably in the Post Courier.

I have put it down to the Chinese Embassy in PNG being pro-active, and frankly aggressive in promoting China's interests most favourably. That is of course its job.

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It stands in stark contrast to the benign Australian High Commission which is high on staff numbers but low on quality engagement with the people of PNG.

The Australian High Commission in PNG needs a total make over. The new Australian Government could well consider replacing the current High Commissioner, a diplomat, with a former Australian federal or state politicians who could effectively engage with PNG's political leaders.

But back to press freedom.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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