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Papua New Guinea 16 April 2003

Proposed law threatens press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) said today it was concerned about a plan to prosecute anyone, especially journalists, who publicly criticised Papua New Guinea or its government. An Australian and a Papua New Guinean have already been summoned by a parliamentary committee for criticising the country in remarks that appeared in the Australian press.

The proposed law, announced by the committee on 3 April, would violate the freedom of expression and press freedom clauses of the national constitution, said the organisation, which urged Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to speak out against the proposal. It also called for legal action against the two summoned critics to 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 paper The Australian headed "PNG, On the brink," Manning, who heads the Papua New Guinea 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 made remarks allegedly tarnishing the dignity or integrity of parliament. Committee chairman Nick Kuman said it 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 paper the Post-Courier.

The government’s position on the proposal is unclear. A spokeswoman for Somare said on 6 April that the government did not necessarily agree with it. But she also warned that the media had to show responsibility by not publishing negative news about the country.

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