Thank you INA for your invitation to Media Council PNG to be a part of your discussion and deliberations today.
My name is Frieda Kana and I am the current Secretary to the Media Council PNG executive. It is a voluntary role but my presence in the media industry comes courtesy of my job as Editor of Wantok Newspaper.
I was asked to represent the MCPNG to give an overview on Media Ownership and Journalistic Autonomy. But also to do a presentation on Media Council as an organisation; what it was set up to do and the current state of the organisation as well as some of its work.
From the onset I do not have much background information on the Media Council PNG's activities in the past as I have been the secretary for the council for just three years. Nevertheless I am happy to present on behalf of the MCPNG at this important meeting.
Ownership and journalistic autonomy:
Who owns main stream media or organisations currently engaged in media activities in PNG?
I believe most of the media agencies in PNG are owned by foreign companies and the government. Only a small percentage is owned by national private companies including the churches and NGOs. Ownership of the agencies can often determine the type of reporting and journalism. Owners of media organisations can determine editorial and advertising policies and make calls on what gets published or goes to air.
Control by proprietors can undermine objective reporting on issues of importance. A journalist is answerable to the editor who is then answerable to the media organisation owners. There have been instances of interference in the work of journalists but it is not for me to give names and examples. Individual journalists come under a lot of pressure in their line of duty and they often have to make a call to adhere to their employer's directives or follow the MCPNG Media Code of Ethics and lose their jobs.
The public and the Government demand a lot from journalists and reporters and expect them to be objective and not biased when reporting on certain people, political parties, companies, organisations etc.
However, in my short time in mainstream media I experienced and see that impartiality also comes with acceptable compensation and benefit. Many times journalists are not able to attend important events due to logistical and transport challenges.
The company wants more publicity when they pay for advertising and sponsorships.
Most media agencies are not profitable and lack the resources to cover the entire country. In fact there are events and personalities that continue to get maximum media coverage due to their support for the journalists. The support can be in the form of transport support and allowances to enable the journalists and reporters to travel and collect stories.
In my short stint as editor I have realised that sometimes reporters do not attend certain events if there are no incentives offered with the assignment. There are also instances where media personnel accept out-of-town assignments if free drinks or allowances are provided. I have often wondered why this happens and can only conclude that the salaries of journalists in PNG are so low that they are forced to make ends meet by having access to what I term extra benefits.
From my experience a journalist with a university degree is paid at least three times lower than a university colleague who is a graduate accountant or a human resource officer. But journalists in PNG continue to perform their duties with passion and pride and I salute each of them. I hope I have not offended anyone with what I just revealed.
I had hoped that during my time in the Media Council of PNG executive I would have been part of a committee that would fight for the improvement of salaries and benefits and protection of journalists in PNG but alas my 2-year term is up. We will soon organise an AGM for the members of the media industry to appoint new executives and I hope that they will do something to improve the benefits and working condition of journalists in the country.
Media Council as an organisation:
The Media Council of PNG is the peak media body in the country comprising media outlets and utilizing these organisations as a development tool. The MCPNG was established in 1994 and it has grown to be an important driver of change in the PNG media industry since then. However as many of you may have noticed, the MCPNG has not been very active in terms of tangible activities.
The reasons for the absence of the council in recent years are mainly due to financial problems which arose due to the lack of accountability in the management of donor funding. This unfortunate situation led to the slow disintegration of the MCPNG secretariat. The secretariat was eventually left with only two full-time staff and an interim committee acting as the executive until February 27, 2015 when the current executive was elected at the AGM by council members.
A major media-focused training and capacity building program funded by AusAID, which was scheduled to end in 2013, did not conclude well due to the governance issues highlighted above. The remaining funding was used in the upkeep of the secretariat and the last activities of the interim committee. The new executive inherited a large debt to service providers and a backlog of salaries and benefits due to former employees - which to this date remain outstanding.
In the last major program activities that I alluded to above; there were two core program components in the activities which were implemented: Media Development Initiative and Development Communication Initiative. However, I was not in mainstream media at that time nor on the council so I cannot give you details on these two programs. Information gathered from colleagues in the industry at that time and reports show that the program activities led to important training and advocacy targeting the industry and its personnel. There was also a media awards recognising journalism excellence on an annual basis.
The MCPNG was revived in February 2015 but is not as prominent as it used to be. The current executive strives to be the mouthpiece of the PNG media industry through the president, who continues to speak out on issues affecting the industry, journalists and the PNG public.
However there is one way the media fraternity itself can be of assistance to the council which continues to represent their interests - the payment of annual membership fees. For two years the council sent out invoices for membership fees but only one media organisation responded positively. Thanks to the organisation's payment the MCPNG was able to reopen its bank account and purchase accounting software. But the council bank account is in danger of being closed again due to the lack of financial transactions.
As part of its remit the current executive has met various donor organisations and diplomatic missions over the last two years seeking funding support for media-focused training and capacity building programs. The response has been mixed and we are thankful to partners such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) who conducted training in partnership with the MCPNG September 2016, and the Australian government-funded Media Development Initiative (MDI), which run monthly training programs in conjunction with the council to coincide with the NBC National Press Club initiative. The MDI-MCPNG 2-hour monthly training programs kicked off in January 2017 and focuses on journalists, reporters and technical crew such as cameramen and women.
The NBC National Press Club is a high profile guest lecture series and is a partnership between the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the MCPNG and Lamana Hotel Limited. It is run on a monthly basis and has so far attracted Prime Minister Peter O'Neill (January 2017), Opposition Leader Don Polye (February 2017) and retiring founding Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare (April 2017). Under the MOU signed between the partners late last year, the MCPNG will be paid a commission from any profit made by Lamana Hotel Limited at any of the events. It is the first revenue-generating venture that the council has entered into since its reviving in February 2015.
Our other partners have included the Investment Promotion Authority (jointly hosted a week-long workshop in 2015), the Office of Censorship (attended a 2-day workshop in 2014) and the annual CIMC regional workshops. The MCPNG president also attended an international conference on press freedom in Timor-Leste in May 2017 funded by the Timor-Leste Press Council.
The MCPNG is best placed to be a guide and the guardian of press freedom in PNG and promote public interest journalism but how can it perform its task with the support of the media industry? The council needs financial support to enable it to meet its mandate to the media industry and ultimately Papua New Guineans. Should the council turn to the government (like other press councils in the region) or rely on the patronage of corporate organisations? And if the council gets financial support from third parties will it compromise its position and ultimately the media industry?
The arrival of social media in PNG has also created a new challenge for the council from a content perspective. Members of the public and government officials have expressed concern at the inaccuracies of social media. But is the council in a position to tackle these challenges without the necessary support of the industry?
I hope my presentation was not doom and gloom but challenged each of us today to rise up and make a difference. The MCPNG needs your help in order for it to make a difference in the lives of Papua New Guineans.
> This is an edited version of the speech that was given by Frieda Kana at a media accountability seminar organised by the Institute of National Affairs (INA) on June 13, 2017.