Community, demagogues and the South Pacific news media
On 19 October 1995, the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea issued the terms of reference for a Constitutional Review Committee's (CRC) Subcommittee on Media Accountability: to examine 'whether changes need to be made to ensure that, while freedom of the press is maintained, owners, editors and journalists of all elements of the media are accountable and that persons aggrieved by media abuses have reasonable redress'. The CRC held a public seminar in January 1996 to explore the issues and the Media Council of Papua New Guinea held a 'freedom at the crossroads' seminar the following month. Public responses were overwhelmingly in favour of the traditional 'free' press in Papua New Guinea, as guaranteed under Section 46 of the Constitution. The report of the Subcommittee on Media Accountability to Parliament in June 1996 essentially came to the same conclusion. However, the CRC introduced three draft media laws in November which introduced a controversial system involving a Media Commission, registration of journalists, licensing of media organisations and serious penalties for transgressors. The proposed legislation was widely condemned and was eventually shelved in February 1997. A general view is that the media debate was manipulated by a small group of politicians out of self-interest. This paper examines the developments in the context of the erosion of the news media and free expression in the South Pacific generally.