An annual report on the state of civic freedoms around the world has downgraded two countries in the Asia-Pacific for interference with freedom of the press. A generally upbeat assessment by the watchdog group Civitas put seven Pacific countries in the “open” category and highlighted Malaysia as a “bright spot.” China and North Korea were again listed as “closed,” while Nauru and Papua New Guinea joined Fiji as “obstructed.”
You may remember the story about PNG’s decision to buy 40 Maseratis to ferry world leaders around during the recent APEC summit in Port Moresby. When contrasted to widespread poverty in the country and health problems like the return of polio, the story deeply embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Not much could be done to control international coverage, but when a local TV reporter broadcast the news, he was promptly suspended.
Scott Waide, a senior journalist at EMTV has been reinstated after a backlash, but not before he characterized interference with the news as a plague in PNG. He told the Pacific Beat Program on Australia’s ABC that management was often told not to run stories, or to “tone down” the news.
“It’s a very disturbing trend that people feel they can just come in and interfere, not just with the chief executive,” he said, “but interfere at the operational level. They’re doing it with impunity,” Waide added, “It’s a trend that’s very dangerous for democracy.”
Pacific Beat also spoke with Lisa Williams-Lahari of the Pacific Freedom Forum who said that Waide’s suspension came as no surprise, “because it’s not the first time the Government has gotten quite heavy handed with journalists . . . who are just doing their jobs.”