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Parties urged to respect media role

UPDATE: PFF to PNG Police, soldiers: hands off media (PFF, 24 May 2012)

(PFF/IFEX) - 23 May 2012 - Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - Political camps in Papua New Guinea's current leadership standoff must respect the independence of the media, says regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

The call comes after reports of an unscheduled speech made by ousted Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare on the national broadcaster, NBC, on Monday 21 May. According to journalists there, a late night cavalcade from the Somare camp drove into the premises of the NBC around 11pm, demanding that their leader be put on air to deliver a speech to the nation. He spoke uninterrupted for some 15 minutes, before leaving the station. Earlier the same day, three PNG Supreme Court judges had ruled that he was PNG's legitimate Prime Minister.

The following day, journalists reported Somare and supporters being blocked at the gates of the Governor General's residence by Police officers supporting his political opponent and current Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill. Somare's group were demanding that he and his Cabinet be sworn in.

"Access to the media and free speech is a cornerstone of democracy and the proactive approach from political leaders to newsrooms is a welcome sign. However, in an election period with editors sensitive to accusations of favouritism from both sides, political camps should respect the independence of the media and the policies in place," says PFF chair Titi Gabi.

Parliament has been dissolved, nominations for candidates are closing off and the polling begins in late June.

"The political situation in PNG is very fluid and many are relying on the mainstream media, especially radio, to present a balanced and factual coverage of events," says Gabi.

"What has essentially taken place is a media-jacking event which could have been potentially volatile. The news value of the situation is noted, but was lost. The demand was for an uninterrupted statement rather than a news interview."

It's understood a staff meeting the following day stressed the need for adherence to the NBC policy of allowing political leaders scheduled airtime only by prior appointment and discussion.

Meanwhile, social network media monitors on PNG continue to voice growing concern over corruption of media and interference in editorial standards. Members of a newly formed PNG Media Workers Association are leading much of the debate and in a WPFD elections reporting workshop, called for vigilance and integrity amongst journalists covering the elections.

"PNG media workers have already delivered a comprehensive media code of ethics with specific reference to elections. It's a great model for the region, but like any model needs ownership and resources to make it happen," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller, from American Samoa.

"If the media ethics codes are not being implemented by media workers especially during elections when editorial balance and independence are critical, the codes of media conduct are meaningless and lead to loss of public trust and confidence. We urge media colleagues to resist pressures for one sided coverage and to raise the alarm on editorial corruption as soon as they see it happen."

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