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PFF calls for revival of media standards committee

(PFF/IFEX) - Regional media watchdog Pacific Freedom Forum has called on the Media Council of Papua New Guinea and news organizations to enforce codes of ethics, increase public awareness on complaints processes, and consider reactivating the dormant Independent Media Standards Committee.

The call follows intense debate this week on the media freedom online forum. PFF members debated the recent front page publication by Papua New Guinea (PNG) daily newspaper "The National", of a photo featuring the bodies of four dead children with a brief caption mentioning their mother was believed to have drowned them shortly before giving herself up to police.

"While we acknowledge the freedom of editorial process within newsrooms, the decision to publish has been denounced by many of our members who honour the ethical call on journalists to take up their right of resisting the compulsion to intrude on the right to privacy of the dead and the grieving of their families," said PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of PNG.

It is understood complaints over the photo have been received by the PNG Media Council, while "The National" is standing by its decision to publish but has since taken the image from its website.

"Many Pacific governments respect the independence of the media and the need for self-regulation by practitioners. To maintain that respect and the trust of Pacific people, media organisations need to ensure we are accountable for breaches in the standards set for ourselves," said Laumaea.

"Having a public and transparent complaints process in place and keeping journalists aware of ethical standards and checks can be helped along by the reactivation of the Independent Media Standards Committee, set up to assist the PNG Media Council adjudicate on complaints from the public," he said.

"All journalists have a responsibility to ensure they are aware of the
ethical codes of reporting. Editors, who are the final check before
publication, must especially uphold those codes and standards," said PFF co-chair Monica Miller.

"Freedom of expression and freedom of information are the parents of a free and independent Pacific media. But a free and thriving media often go hand in hand with never-ending debates on what is offensive, intrusive and in breach of what our communities regard as common decency. We acknowledge the recent decision of 'The National' to pull the image from its website, but would hope the newspaper also ensures its readers are kept informed of contacts and complaints processes for the organisation, and that the guidelines on using images of the dead are actively in place," she said.

"We in the Pacific should not take our cue from the often sensationalised intrusion on personal privacy by global media conglomerates, and the Internet. Television newsreaders have the luxury of warning people of forthcoming images which may upset or offend. In print, for images such as these, it helps for editors to include text, in this case, which could have stated that permissions from parents were given for publication of the photo, even if it was taken in a public place," Miller added.

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