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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Papua New Guinea

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Papua New Guinea, February 1998, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Fears that Papua New Guinea's generally open media climate might evaporate eased after vigorous protests by press and civil liberties groups led authorities in February to shelve a proposal for a pair of media licensing and regulation bills modeled on repressive laws in Singapore and Malaysia. The decision handed down by the Constitutional Review Commission said, "It cannot be stressed enough that independence of the media and the communication industry are paramount to ensuring that democratic processes are respected. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press must not be violated or suppressed in any manner or form. These constitutionally enshrined freedoms must be respected as essential elements of a free and democratic society."

It had been feared that the government of then-prime minister Julius Chan would use the proposed bills to shackle the press and help guarantee his reelection. Instead, Chan found himself out of a job after his government was found to have contracted with British mercenaries to aid the army in battling an insurgency on the island of Bouganville.

Journalists had been routinely barred from traveling independently to Bouganville since the strife began in 1988. In February, Defense Minister Mathias Ijape ordered Papua New Guinea security forces to apprehend two foreign journalists, Andrew Marshall, a British citizen on assignment for Esquire magazine, and Wayne-Cole Johannes, a free-lance Australian television producer, who had entered Bouganville illegally, and fly them to the capital, Port Moresby, for prosecution, but the reporters escaped.

Following Chan's ouster, Bill Skate took office as prime minister in July and is seeking a negotiated settlement with rebels in a conflict that has claimed some 20,000 lives. As authorities anticipate a negotiated conclusion to the conflict, Bouganville has been reopened to journalists, dispelling some of the mystery surrounding conditions on the island that prevailed during the war.

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