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Journalists attacked, television station vehicle burnt in anti-privatisation conflict

(PINA/IFEX) - On 28 June 2001, the Pacific Islands news agency PINA Nius Online reported that Papua New Guinea news media had been threatened, journalists attacked and a television station vehicle burnt during anti-privatisation clashes in the capital, Port Moresby. PINA Nius Online said that staff from daily newspapers "Papua New Guinea Post-Courier" and "The National", TV station EM TV and the Religious Broadcasting Association, were threatened and attacked by both student protesters and police. This occurred during rioting that arose after the deadly shooting of at least three students from the University of Papua New Guinea and the wounding of others. The shootings took place during confrontations with police, who were breaking up protests by students against government privatisation policies, the presence of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Papua New Guinea, and rumoured land reforms.

PINA Nius Online reported the following incidents:

On 27 June, EM TV, the country's main television broadcaster, reported an attack by students on a camera crew from the Religious Television Association, who was also shooting the confrontations for EM TV. The students, who also made threats against the news media, burnt a ten-seater vehicle used by the camera crew. Cameraman Joe Walker was reportedly shaken up but not badly hurt after being attacked.

Also on 27 June, the "Papua New Guinea Post-Courier" said that members of a team of journalists who were at Port Moresby General Hospital reporting on casualties, were punched and kicked by students. Those attacked were acting news editor Blaise Nangoi, reporter Jacqueline Kapigeno and photographer George Corbett. Nurses rescued them and locked out the agitated students. Nangoi and Corbett both suffered bruises. A camera was lost in the melee. The students also threatened the news media.

Papua New Guinea Media Council President Peter Aitsi appealed for the attacks and threats to stop. He said: "The men and women of the media are there in the line of fire receiving abuse from all sides only because it is their duty and their responsibility to the rest of PNG to keep the nation informed. The media will not take sides and must be allowed to portray developments without fear of harassment or assault."

"The council reminds the parties involved in the current conflict to work with the various media organizations. If you want your comments to be covered then you need to provide access for the media, however you must also understand the same courtesy must be given to people who may have different views. Under our Constitution we are all given the freedom to express our opinions."

"Media organizations in PNG are committed to tell[ing] both sides of a story. It is unjust to target them because they have given coverage to a point of view that you don't share. The council is committed to promoting an industry that is fair, balanced and transparent. However, any attack on our members would be seen as a criminal act and could turn public sentiment against your cause."

PINA Nius Online reported that trouble broke out in Port Moresby when police moved in to end five days of student protests against government privatisation policies and the rumoured land reform. The students were also demanding the removal of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from Papua New Guinea. Their protests caused widespread disruptions in the National Capital District. As news of the students' deaths and injuries to others spread, businesses and vehicles were looted and burnt. The government imposed a dusk to dawn curfew and flew in mobile police squads from outside Port Moresby.

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