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Papua New Guinea’s police minister says two journalists who reported on COVID-19 funding ‘can’t be trusted’

Categories: Oceania, Papua New Guinea, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Politics, COVID-19
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Prime Minister James Marape addressing the media and the public about the alleged misuse of COVID-19 funds. Screenshot of EMTV Online report uploaded to YouTube.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19 [2].

Papua New Guinea’s Police Minister Bryan Kramer has accused [3] two journalists of publishing an inaccurate report about the government’s COVID-19 funding program.

On April 11, 2020, the minister wrote [4] on his Kramer Report Facebook page that Loop PNG political and business editor Freddy Mou, and senior PNG Post-Courier journalist Gorethy Kenneth, “can’t be trusted”, as the two allegedly have close ties with the previous prime minister and both have allegedly published “biased and misleading reports.”

Mou and Kenneth interviewed [5] Treasury Minister Ian Ling-Stuckey, who reportedly expressed concern about the government’s expenditure related to the COVID-19 response. The interview also tackled the issue about the government’s hiring of media consultants and cars as part of the COVID-19 measures.

Kramer said the treasurer’s words were taken out of context. He also said some of the issues raised during the interview came from ‘unsubstantiated’ social media sources, and called the report “sensationalized and biased.” [6] He concluded with these words:

What action would a reputable media company take against a journalist who caused significant damage to its reputation?

If it were me being misrepresented in the media, I would take immediate action against the journalist and media company.

Loop PNG replied [7] that it “stands by the key facts” of the story and defended its editorial integrity and independence:

Any misunderstanding, though regrettable, was not deliberate or intentional, and Loop PNG rejects all assertions to the contrary.

Loop PNG also rejects any attempts to interfere with its editorial independence, which is a cornerstone of Papua New Guinean democracy.

Opposition leader Belden Namah said the government should respect [8] press freedom:

I want to make it clear to government: you should not be using heavy-handed tactics to suppress the freedom of the press in this country.

If you are criticized, accept the criticism. If it's true that there has been misuse of funds, I want the relevant state authorities to intervene, including the Ombudsman Commission and police fraud squad to investigate.

Prime Minister James Marape insisted on his Facebook page that the report misquoted the treasurer. He assured the public that his government will be transparent [9] in the utilization of funds to fight COVID-19:

Going forward we will account to public scrutiny too as it is good governance practice because more funds will be funneled through for this essential work.

I will not allow misuse of money and profiteering at people’s expense but so far so good, I have witnessed from all hands on deck, a spirit of volunteerism at work.

Activist Noel Anjo wrote on Facebook that there do appear to be discrepancies [10] in the numbers presented by Kramer, the treasurer, and the prime minister. He added that the prime minister should allow the treasurer to speak up [11] on the issue:

The Treasurer is not deaf and dumb or handicapped where the twos can speak for him. Have some respect for the Treasurer and let him provide to the media copies of the cheques printed and given out. Next time stick to your own Ministry and respect each other.

Daniel Bastard, the Asia-Pacific head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), criticized [12] Kramer for publishing a Facebook post which suggested the firing of the two journalists:

It is not up to a government minister to decide whether journalists should be fired, and especially when it is because of a report he didn’t like.

This constitutes an unacceptable meddling in the media’s necessary work.