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Proposed law threatens press freedom, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - On 16 April 2003, RSF expressed its concern over the government's plan to prosecute all persons, incuding journalists, who publicly criticise Papua New Guinea (PNG) or its government. An Australian citizen and a Papua New Guinean national have already been summoned by a parliamentary committee for criticising the country in remarks that appeared in the Australian press.

RSF believes the proposed law, announced by the committee on 3 April, would violate the national constitution's freedom of expression and press freedom clauses. The organisation urged the prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, to speak out against the proposal. RSF also demanded that legal action launched against the two summoned critics be dropped.

The two men, Australian businessman Rod Mitchell and economist Mike Manning, a naturalised Papua New Guinean, appeared before the Permanent Parliamentary Privileges Committee on 3 April.

In an article in the daily newspaper "The Australian" entitled "PNG, On the brink," Manning, who heads the PNG Institute for National Affairs, was quoted as saying the country was very corrupt. Mitchell, who runs a pension fund, was quoted in several Australian papers as criticising corruption.

The committee's proposed law would also punish those who make remarks allegedly "tarnishing the dignity or integrity of Parliament". Committee Chairman Nick Kuman said the committee would amend existing laws to provide "effective and justifiable means to deter critics who persistently and knowingly publish damaging articles."

"This is the most frightening thing I've seen in my career as a journalist," said Bob Howarth, publisher of the PNG daily "Post-Courier".

The government's position on the proposal is unclear. On 6 April, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Somare said the government did not necessarily agree with it. But she also warned that the media had to demonstrate "responsibility" by not publishing negative news about the country.

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