PFF, Rarotonga-- As the result counts from Papua New Guinea's general elections continue to flow in, the country's national media workers association has joined the Pacific Freedom Forum in its concern over returning officers interfering with media work at two provincial centres.The PNG Media Workers association and regional media monitoring network say voter and public rights to know polling results came under threat this week. In two separate incidents, journalists at polling centres in the Western Highlands and Morobe provinces were banned from doing their jobs.
Journalists at the centres reported on Monday 9th July, that the returning officer for the Huon/Gulf electorate in Morobe demanded payments for release of information from Lae-based journalists, and verbally abused an NBC reporter.Two days later, another returning officer overseeing the counting for the Hagen Open polls in the Western Highlands banned media from reporting the results.
"We are concerned over the incidents affecting the ability of media to get on with the work of reporting the polling results. Keeping journalists away from reporting the results of the counting shuts the door on the people relying on news for updates, and robs the public of
their right to know," says PFF chair Titi Gabi, from PNG. Gabi is also a founding member of the PNG Media Workers Association.
Gabi is currently leading a media support group at the Elections Media Centre, led by Commissioner Andrew Trawen.
The reporting of the incidents to her led to a speedy resolution of the issues. Journalists -- some of whom had wanted to boycott the elections after their harassment, resumed their usual observation and
reporting of the results where the incidents took place.
From American Samoa, PFF co-chair Monica Miller says media colleagues across the region remain concerned for the safety and situation of journalists covering elections across the Pacific 's largest country.
Three out of every four of the Pacific's 10million population come from PNG alone, with provincial reporting and access being under-resourced and difficult work. In a recent partnership event with the International Federation of Journalists for World Press Freedom Day 2012, PNG Media Workers Association members noted corruption and bribery of journalists remains a major ethical challenge.
"We commend colleagues who are speaking out on threats to their work, and also welcome the decision of the Electoral Commissioner to involve media advice in his central operations team. It has led to the speedy resolution of attempts to control and undermine the rights of media to report freely, without favour." says Miller.