PNG Facebook ban threat casts shadow over Pacific media freedom

Papua New Guinea threatened to temporarily ban Facebook earlier this year. With the APEC conference looming in November, the question remains whether this was an attack on freedom of speech. Jessica Marshall of Asia-Pacific Journalism reports in a two-part series on the Pacific internet.

In March, it was revealed that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of Facebook profiles.

The breach, thought to be one of Facebook’s biggest, reportedly used the data to influence both the United States 2016 presidential election and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom.

In the aftermath, Facebook announced a commitment “to reducing the spread of false news on Facebook,” by removing false accounts and using independent third-party factcheckers to curb fake news on the site.

The effectiveness of this new policy remains to be seen.

The revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal lead to the Papua New Guinean government threat in May that it would ban the social network for a month in the country.

Communications Minister Sam Basil was reported by news media as saying the ban decision was an attempt to enforce the Cyber Crime Act 2016.

A horde of PNG “ban on Facebook” stories on Google, but stories on PNG’s subsequent back off in the proposal are hard to find. Image: PMC

“The Act has already been passed, so what I’m trying to do is to ensure the law is enforced accordingly… We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.” Basil told the Post-Courier.


Difficult to track
According to The Guardian, Basil had raised concerns about the protection of the privacy of Papua New Guinea’s Facebook users. He had claimed that it was difficult to track those who had posted defamatory comments on Facebook using “ghost profiles”.

Basil later denied in the media that he had said he would ban Facebook, but the Post-Courier stood by its report which had sparked of the flurry of stories and speculation. So far no ban has actually taken place.

Papua New Guinea is not the only country to have banned the social media site. Facebook is already blocked in authoritarian countries like China, Iran and North Korea.

In March, Sri Lanka blocked the site along with Viber and WhatsApp for nine days, believing it to be the cause of hate speech and violence.

Facebook was also condemned for allowing hate speech to become prominent in Myanmar during the Rohingya crisis earlier in the year.

The platform, according to Reuters, was claimed to have played an important role in the spread of hate speech when Rohingya refugees were fleeing their homeland to Bangladesh.

Other countries have made attempts to combat trolling and fake news, New Zealand included.

In 2015, New Zealand made cyberbullying illegal in an attempt to curb teen suicide. The law, passed in tandem with an amendment to the Crimes Act 1961, was designed to ensure that cyberbullies would face up to two years’ imprisonment.

‘Fake news’ conviction
In April this year, the Malaysian courts convicted its first person under a new fake news law. The Danish citizen was charged after he posted a video claiming that police were not quick to act after receiving distress calls regarding the shooting of a Palestinian lecturer.

Questions regarding free speech have circulated since the Basil reportedly made the announcement.

Only 11 percent of the Papua New Guinean population have access to the internet. The site, for those with the ability to use it, has become a news source in a place where media freedom is increasingly threatened.

PNG “news” blogs have proliferated.

While Freedom House’s most recent report on press freedom says that the press in Papua New Guinea is free, the organisation is quick to note that this freedom has become worse over recent years.

Freedom of speech, information and the press are all guaranteed and inalienable rights in Papua New Guinean law due to Section 46 of the country’s constitution.

What has caused problems, however, for the press is political pressure and violence. Over the years, journalists have been “detained without charge, and their video footage was destroyed”.

Three female journalists were sexually assaulted in 2014, the report states.

Reporters Without Borders also reported police violence against journalists in 2016. It said in a media statement that one NBC journalist had been assaulted by three police officers until another officer intervened. Others had been attacked by a plainclothes officer.

Facebook as news source
In the era of fake news, social media plays a huge role in how the people get their news.
According to Pew Research, two-thirds of American adults got their news through social media in 2017.

A report by the ABC said “more Papua New Guineans have access to social media than ever”.

“Facebook is… being cited as an important hub for news, and the audience is larger than other news websites with 53 percent of weekly users reporting the use of online social media compared to the two main newspapers’ websites,” the report said.

Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director of Reporters Without Borders, said that blocking Facebook “would deprive nearly a million internet users” from news and information.

“Instead of resorting to censorship, the Communications Minister should encourage online platforms to be more transparent and responsible about content regulation.”

There is still concern about the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Port Moresby in November and a possible Facebook ban’s impact.

Paul Barker, director of the Institute of National Affairs, told the Post-Courier “It would be a travesty if PNG sought to close down Facebook during the APEC month… as it would be both an attack on embracing technology, undermining the information era and mechanisms for accountability, but also damaging business and welfare.”

Jessica Marshall is an AUT student journalist on the postgraduate Asia Pacific Journalism course.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific news journalists grapple with challenges of social media, harsh laws

BRIEFING: By Geraldine Panapasa in Suva

Like it or not, social media has become part and parcel of almost everyday discussions.

Whether it’s talk about the economy or the latest development and trends, large and influential platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn have become the go-to source for news and information.

Add technological advancements and accessibility to the mix, and one is left with a digitally-empowered society and a media industry grappling with a number of challenges such as fake news, citizen journalism and in some cases, harsh legislation.

Legislation that can either be viewed as a way to clamp down on journalists or to some extent, limit one’s constitutional freedom of speech, expression and publication, or it could be legislation driven by genuine concerns to ensure news and information are accurate, fair and balanced.

The advent of social media, its impact on journalism and the transforming political situations that are evidently changing the way the media operates in the Pacific were at the heart of the discussions at last month’s 5th Pacific Media Summit organised by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

The May 7-11 event, attended by more than 100 media practitioners and stakeholders, also highlighted other pertinent issues relating to the theme, “Empowering the Media for Digital Challenges”, such as climate reporting; social media impact on financial literacy, women empowerment and the environment; international humanitarian law; gender and the digital media; the role of the media in fighting corruption; and dealing with threats against the media.


But the biggest concern by far was dealing with the change that social media brought in terms of the traditional dissemination of receiving, consuming, sharing and interpreting news and information.

Overlooking checks
The opportunities for social media users to maximise on the platforms to freely exchange information and news, often at times overlooking the checks and balances that journalists practise, have become a concern for some regional governments, who have openly advocated for legislation that curbs the deliberate act of spreading misinformation or hoax messages through traditional forms of print and broadcast news.

Take for instance, Fiji’s highly-controversial Online Safety Act 2018, which recently became law after being passed by Parliament with 27 votes on May 16. It aimed to promote responsible online behaviour and online safety as well as act as a deterrence of harmful electronic communication.

To a large extent, the Act addressed cyberbullying, cyberstalking, internet trolling, and exposure to offensive or harmful content, particularly for children. Public submissions to the Standing Committee on the Online Safety Bill included one from a former media personality, Lenora Qereqeretabua, who felt it was a tactic to scare online users rather than try to develop capacity for responsible online behaviour and online safety.

Another submission to the Bill, from the Media Watch Group in Fiji, emphasised the right to responsible free speech for Fiji citizens, saying this was a fundamental component of a truly democratic society and a must for a developing island nation in this growing digital age.

Recently, the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Maleilegaoi threatened to ban the social media network Facebook in Samoa after what he described were “gutless anonymous bloggers” using the freedom of social media to abuse government officials and innocent members of the public.

Papua New Guinea followed suit last month by considering to block Facebook as a result of alleged defamatory publications, fake news, identity theft and unidentified users breaching the law in terms of posting pornographic materials and fake news.

During the summit in Tonga, PNG Acting Secretary for the Department of Communication and Information, Paul Korni, did not mince his words when he told participants that they would not hesitate to enforce legislation that monitored social media such as Facebook if it meant putting a tight lid on the dissemination of “fake news” and other alleged defamatory publications.

Cyberspace arena
World-renowned digital technology activist Dhyta Caturani from Indonesia put things into perspective when she made a strong statement at the summit about the internet and new media platforms that made it possible for people to do and say things that were not possible for them before in this new arena – cyberspace.

In terms of fake news, governments, civil society and even the media are still battling this issue. And one point Caturani raised was uncovering the reasons or intentions behind fake news.

This, Caturani believes, is key if media and stakeholders were to address the issue of fake news, finding the motivations and intentions of fake news and putting the fire out through due diligence and fact-checking information before publishing or broadcasting news.

She said some fake news were churned out by irresponsible internet users while others used fake news to propagate political interests or agendas – a notion shared also by senior journalists in the region when it came to identifying the purpose of fake news.

“Why has this (cyber) space now become heavily monitored, regulated, surveilled, censored and our data being stolen from us without consent or sold, not to mention the online violence?” she asked during her keynote address at the opening of the summit.

“The answer is profit. With millions of people now connected to the internet, with billions of information and data published, the capitalists realised that the internet is the new source of making limitless profits.

“The other answer is fear. Those in power realised that the internet has now become a tool for people to challenge those in power and abusing power to disrupt the status quo and to demand freedom and equality.

Censorship a global trend
“We now see censorship as a global trend. Governments all over the world are copying one another to pass draconian laws that will give them the legitimisation to censor any content, any expression, any voice published online. Some governments even shut down the internet entirely.”

Veteran journalists from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga shared similar concerns about the fake news trend in relation to the challenge for the media in a digitally-empowered society – that fake news and social media platforms had given rise to “citizen journalism” and the circulation of unverified information, and analysis of news by the general public on popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and that journalists and media stakeholders needed to adapt to this “new normal” or “seismic change” while maintaining their integrity and ethics.

It’s a new form of journalism that continues to grow.

Journalists Association of Samoa president Rudy Bartley said this was a challenge for journalists and media workers.

“It’s either you adapt or die. There are a lot of fake news circulating and those issues, without social media, would never have happened,” Bartley said.

Long-time PNG journalist Joseph Ealedona said they were very critical of new media and its impact on the future of journalism. While they welcomed the change in the way news and information were disseminated, the concern was maintaining journalistic integrity and ethics.

Vital solution
In the midst of these challenges and debates about new media platforms and its impact on journalism in the region, Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala summed up perhaps a vital solution when he shared his concept in dealing with this trend.

“Instead of monitoring these, we need to continue to educate people to tell the truth. It is telling the truth and authenticity that will expose the fake. I have never seen new media, social media as a threat to journalism at all. I see it as an extension of the media when it is used properly,” Moala said.

These media trends and practices continue to play a vital role in terms of getting news out first and in real time. The onus is more or less on journalists and media workers to adapt and embrace these current media practices without compromising their ethics and code of conduct as the fourth estate.

Geraldine Panapasa is editor-in-chief of Wansolwara newspaper with the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. This is a special report for Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Juffa accuses O’Neill government of ‘shutting down’ free speech in PNG

Oro Govenor Gary Juffa … not just about Facebook, a matter of democracy. Image: PNG Parliament

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Oro Governor Garry Juffa says the people of PNG find it “frightening” and “alarming”  that the Papua New Guinea government is making a move towards shutting down their opportunity to have access to information and to speak freely.

He says the media freedom issue is not just about Facebook – it is about “fundamental democracy” and free speech in the country.

Juffa was responding to a Parliamentary Privileges Committee hearing about a criticism Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer made about Communications Minister Sam Basil in the controversy about a threatened shutdown of Facebook in Papua New Guinea for “research” into abuse.

“This criticism that they [givernment MPs] are complaining about, they are basically complaining about is their feelings of being hurt because of something that has offended them or has demeaned them in some ways, but this comes with the territory,” Juffa has said in the Post-Courier.

“When you are a leader you going to get criticised, that’s normal, [US President] Donald Trump gets criticised you know, the Australian Prime Minister gets criticised and they take it, they don’t go and refer these matters to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in their countries, they don’t cry about it and demand apologies,” he said.

“We should be feeling hurt about the fact that we don’t have medicines in our aid posts and hospitals, we should be feeling hurt about the fact that our schools are shutting down because they are not getting funds they need, that our teachers are not being paid, we should be getting hurt about the fact that our economy is taking such a nose dive that ordinary Papua New Guineans are losing their homes, they are losing their business, they are not being paid, people are losing their jobs, these are the things that we need to be hurt about and expressing our concerns about.


‘World looking’
“But we have taken three days of Parliament over an issue because someone in Parliament is being hurt about what someone said about them, it’s quite ridiculous and in fact the world is now looking at Papua New Guinea and thinking what is going on in that country.

“This is not about Facebook.

“This is about the freedom of our people to have the opportunity to say what they want, I may not agree with what you say but we must always fight to protect your right to say it because that’s the fundamental hallmark of democracy.

“We are supposed to host APEC, I mean APEC nations that are coming here that promotes and subscribe to democracy will be aghast, will be shocked that here is a country that is deliberately moving to snuff out or stop the opportunity for its people to dissent.

“The Opposition walk-out from Parliament was a demonstration of our disgust at the fact that the government is deliberately moving against our peoples rights to express themselves.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Keith Jackson: Did dumb just get dumber and Sam Basil dig a hole?

A near confrontation on the floor of Parliament on Friday, with the Papua New Guinea Opposition walking out in protest over the referral of Madang MP Bryan Kramer, to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee following a Facebook posting. Video: EMTV News

OPINION: By Keith Jackson in Noosa

Samuel H Basil, the man who might ban Papua New Guineans from Facebook, was not always such a stern opponent of the social media platform he now despises – a platform used by nearly a million of his fellow citizens.

Indeed it was only 18 months ago that Basil – who is now Communications Minister – posted on his own Facebook page: “FB users in PNG have used the medium to their advantage exposing corruption in government…. Everything is changing; people are taking their bloggers seriously and their politicians as comedians.”

Yes, bloggers serious; politicians comic.

READ MORE: Gary Juffa on the Kramer censoring – another attack on free speech

Then last week, having defected not only from his political base but seemingly from his former progressive and liberal ideas, Basil felt able to announce that Facebook could be banned for a month for some mysterious “research” – and maybe disposed of permanently, perhaps to be replaced by Basbook.

Communications Minister Sam Basil with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – worried about the wellbeing of PNG or just politicians feelings being hurt? Image: PNG Attitude


An immediate worldwide flambé of curiosity then thrust the story into the news stratosphere, some journalists linking it with Papua New Guinea’s APEC forum later this year. Basil seemed to back away, then push the idea forward again so by week’s end what the government intends to do was very much up in the air.

But one thing did remain constant (see more stories on PNG Attitude) – the desire of most national politicians to get rid of the dreadful FB thing that is causing them so much grief with increasingly savvy and critical voters.

Among the small group of politicians fighting to keep Facebook alive is Madang MP Bryan Kramer who was cheeky enough (in a Facebook post of course) to allude to Basil in a headline which asked, “Did dumb just get dumber?”.

Parliamentary walkout
Affecting to have been taken aback, in Parliament the majority of members voted to refer Kramer to the Privileges Committee whereupon Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch and 23 other members walked out of the chamber in protest.

The committee will decide if Kramer’s post brought Parliament into disrepute.

Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer … controversial statement made outside Parliament on Facebook. Image: EMTV News

However, there is something of a problem – the committee is meant to investigate breaches of parliamentary privilege and Kramer’s statement was not made in Parliament.

“I think what is frightening and what is alarming for the people of PNG is a deliberate move towards shutting down their opportunities to have access to information and to also speak freely,” Pruaitch said.

“They [politicians] are complaining about their feelings being hurt.”

Meanwhile, in far away Uganda, Parliament has just passed a new social media tax which will charge a daily fee of 200 Ugandan shillings (about K1.75) to anyone using apps Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. That’s a hefty sum in a country where the average person earns K6 a day.

But, as with Sam Basil’s ill thought through proposition for Papua New Guinea, it is unclear in Uganda how social media use will be monitored and how the money will be collected.

Digging themselves deeper holes in their desire to rein in social media seems to be a developing political trait.

This article is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission and was originally published by Keith Jackson’s blog PNG Attitude.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media