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Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Speech’

Tomato seeks to silence PNG political blogger Namorong

July 13, 2017 Leave a comment

KEITH JACKSON

THE Waigani National Court has granted an order sought by electoral commissioner Patilias ‘Tomato’ Gamato (pictured) against the celebrated Papua New Guinean writer, blogger, commentator and social justice fighter Martyn Namorong.

The order was granted by justice Collin Mikail in response to an urgent application by Gamato’s lawyer.

It sought to ban what were termed “defamatory remarks” about Gamato by Namorong.

It was reported the case arose “from alleged defamatory remarks the blogger made on social media associating commissioner Gamato to a fruit.”

That is, a tomato.

Namarong was not present for the hearing because court officials apparently could not locate the well-known public figure to serve documents.

Namorong responded by using social media to publish an image of himself gagged (pictured, with applause from his family).

And on Twitter, Namorong said: “Just heard I am being taken to court. I need a pro bono lawyer.”

To which PNG Attitude has offered to launch a public appeal to establish a fund to defend Namorong if the matter is pursued in court. Stand by, stout souls, on this one.

Mikail ruled the case must come before the court again on Monday 25 July, set to be known locally in some parts of the South Pacific as ‘International Tomato Day’.

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Justice prevails with injunction on The Opposition rejected by court – however new legal threat looms

July 15, 2016 1 comment

carol kidu paga hill

Source: Media Stockade

The Supreme Court of New South Wales today released the full judgment of 8th July 2016, unequivocally dismissing former Papua New Guinean politician Dame Carol Kidu’s claim for a permanent injunction preventing filmmaker Hollie Fifer, Media Stockade and Beacon Films from screening the documentary The Opposition.

On 20 March 2016 Carol Kidu sought to exclude her appearance and dialogue in the film by seeking an injunction restraining the distribution of any visual or audio recording of herself or any summary, representation or description that has the effect of revealing that content. Her legal case was supported by the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC).

The judgment reads:

When one views the extreme weaknesses of the Plaintiff’s (Dame Carol Kidu’s) claim that she did not know on and from 7 March 2012 that Ms Fifer was hoping to make a documentary for public exhibition rather than a student assignment (whatever it’s topic) the impression gained is that the Plaintiff is prepared, for her own benefit and that of PHDC to say anything to stop the footage taken of her by Ms Fifer being broadcast.

Download the full judgement (1.4MB) Kidu v Fifer

Director Hollie Fifer said, “we are relieved that justice has been served and that audiences around the world will be given the opportunity to see The Opposition and the important story of The Paga Hill Community.

“The Paga Hill Community is filing for damages in the PNG Courts for the loss of their homes and human rights violations. The Opposition is also their evidence base because most of their documents were destroyed during numerous demolition exercises that were carried out at Paga Hill,” said Ms. Fifer.

“This legal conflict has been an extremely stressful time and has disrupted release plans for The Opposition, nearly derailing the film and the important issues it speaks to,” said the film’s producer Rebecca Barry. “We are grateful that we now have the film back in its entirety.”

However, a new legal threat now looms in an attempt to further suppress the film. The court’s temporary injunction of footage featuring Carol Kidu, forced the filmmakers to screen a redacted version at Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto in May 2016. The redacted version of the film features narration over the censored footage by Australian actress Sarah Snook.

Just hours after the Hot Docs International Film Festival premiere of the film, independent production companies, Beacon Films and Media Stockade received further legal demands over the film.

Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), CEO and Director Gudmundur Fridriksson, PHDC director Stanley Liria and former PHDC director George Hallit are demanding all further screenings of the film are immediately ceased due to claims of defamatory imputations.

This is the second legal action taken against the film. The new legal demands were issued within hours of the film’s first screening.

“It would seem that there are powerful forces who don’t want this film to be seen, but we believe that audiences should have the right to make up their own minds. This story is too important not to be told,” said Ms Barry.

Film Synopsis:

The Opposition tells the story of a David-and-Goliath battle over land in Papua New Guinea. It follows Joe Moses, one of the leaders of a four-generation strong settlement in Port Moresby who must save the community before they are evicted off their land. Battling it out in the courts, Joe may find their homes replaced with an international five-star hotel and marina being developed by the Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited. The film highlights the massive gap between law and justice.

#TheOpposition #FreedomOfSpeech #LettheAudienceDecide

Visit the film website at: http://www.theoppositionfilm.com

Some key points from the Supreme Court of NSW Judgment:

The judge said that there were a number of factors which led him to have real concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility including:

  • When faced with emails and SMS messages sent by Ms Fifer to the Plaintiff which contained material destructive of the Plaintiff’s contention that she thought Ms Fifer was only ever involved in a student assignment – the Plaintiff sought to assert that she had not properly read, or appreciated the content of those emails.
  • When conversations which were inconsistent with the Plaintiff’s case that she did not know that Ms Fifer was engaged in making a documentary and not simply making a student assignment were drawn to her attention – the Plaintiff asserted she said that she did not recall them.
  • The Plaintiff asserted in correspondence that she had never given written consent even though she had signed such a document (a release form) and had in July 2012 been reminded by Ms Fifer that she had.

Some of the findings of facts include:

  • That from 7 March 2012 the Plaintiff was fully aware that Ms Fifer would be taking footage for a documentary that Ms Fifer hoped she could broadcast to the public and that the Plaintiff was positive about that idea at least until July 2012 and as far as Ms Fifer knew until at least late 2013.
  • That by December 2013 the Plaintiff had in contemplation entering into a contract with PHDC using a company controlled by her and that in March 2014 her company entered into a contract with PHDC, by which it was to receive the equivalent of approximately $A178,000 (from which her company would need to make payments to subcontractors.)
  • That the Plaintiff invited Ms Fifer to film at Six Mile (the proposed resettlement site) and told her that PHDC would pay for that filming and that she offered to organize a UN Media award for Ms. Fifer.

Ms. Fifer, Media Stockade and Beacon Films were represented by Barrister Richard Potter, Junior Barrister Mark Maconachie and Solicitor Peter Bolam from legal firm Broadley Rees Hogan.

Carol Kidu loses court battle to suppress documentary about Paga Hill

July 15, 2016 Leave a comment

Source: Heath Aston, Sydney Morning Herald 

A documentary about the forced eviction of 3000 squatters from a shanty town in Port Moresby can be shown after a court threw out a legal challenge by one of the film’s central figures, Dame Carol Kidu, the Australia-born former opposition leader of Papua New Guinea.

The Opposition delves deep into the David v Goliath battle over a slice of Papua New Guinean paradise.

In a damning finding for the revered politician, Supreme Court Justice Nigel Rein has questioned Dame Carol’s credibility as a witness and dismissed her claim that she thought she was taking part in a school assignment and did not know that novice Australian filmmaker Hollie Fifer was producing a feature documentary to be shown all over the world.

The 77-minute documentary, The Opposition, revolves around the day in 2012 when an Australian-linked company sent in bulldozers, accompanied by armed PNG police, to raze the historic shanty town on Paga Hill.

carol kidu paga hill

Legal action … Dame Carol Kidu in a scene from the original version of The Opposition. Photo: Supplied

The development company is transforming the $300 million harbour front site into a hotel and marina precinct that could play host to the 2018 APEC leaders’ summit.

In 2012, Ms Fifer followed Dame Carol into Paga Hill, located in her electorate, as the politician pleaded unsuccessfully with police to stop people’s homes being bulldozed.

Footage shows her telling police: “This is not an eviction, it’s a demolition . . . why should some f—-g foreign company get our hill?”.

But by late 2013, the landscape had changed fundamentally.

Having retired from politics, Dame Carol, had been hired as a consultant to Paga Hill Development Company, owned by Australian-Icelandic businessman Gudmundur “Gummi” Fridriksson, a former chief executive of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute, who lives in Cairns.

Dame Carol later presented the company with a letter in which she formally resiled from her criticism of the eviction, saying: “In hindsight, Paga Hill Development Company’s efforts to achieve harmonious resettlement have been genuine”.

“Please accept this letter as my formal notification that I no longer stand by my 2012-2013 statements, which were based on the limited information at the time,” she wrote.

It came out in the hearing that Dame Carol had been paid $178,000 for work with Paga Hill and the company had paid $250,000 to run her case against Ms Fifer.

The case to permanently block the documentary being shown was based on Dame Carol’s claim she had agreed to be filmed as part of what she thought was a film school assignment rather than a commercial documentary venture.

Evidence was produced during the trial of multiple emails and text messages in which Ms Fifer told Dame Carol about seeking ABC funding and the politician also signed a release form that Ms Fifer needed to obtain film funding.

In a stinging verdict, Justice Rein noted: “When one views the extreme weaknesses of [Dame Carol’s] claim that she did not know on and from March 7, 2012, that Ms Fifer was hoping to make a documentary for public exhibition rather than a student assignment (whatever its topic) the impression gained is that [Dame Carol] is prepared, for her own benefit and that of PHDC, to say anything to stop the footage taken of her by Ms Fifer being broadcast.”

“In my view, the plaintiff’s assertion that she was not informed by Ms Fifer of her wish and intention to make a documentary quite unconnected with the student assignment … is without any foundation whatsoever,” Justice Rein found.

He said there were “several indications” that Dame Carol was angry with the documentary quite removed from the issue of her consent.

Those included that “she feels that some people will, or do, think that she ‘sold out’ her former constituents at Paga Hill by joining forces with PHDC and receiving payments for her service”, he noted.

In a statement issued by producers Media Stockade and Beacon Films, Ms Fifer said she was “relieved that justice has been served and that audiences around the world will be given the opportunity to see The Opposition“.

“The Paga Hill community is filing for damages in the PNG courts for the loss of their homes and human rights violations. The Oppositionis also their evidence base because most of their documents were destroyed during numerous demolition exercises that were carried out,” she said.

The documentary, which received funding from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, will be shown at a number of international film festivals.

On Thursday, Dame Carol said she was disappointed with the verdict and still believed the documentary only told “part of a much bigger story” and that the majority of settlers had agreed to move and accept a new block of land elsewhere.

“I was disappointed but I accept the decision of His Honour,” she said.

Read the full judgement: Kidu v Fifer (pdf file 1.4MB)

Free media group protests over alleged police grenade threat on PNG reporter

March 11, 2012 2 comments

Pacific Media Watch

PNG police are often heavily armed

Reporters Without Borders has condemned death threats that Patrick Talu, a reporter for the PNG Post-Courier newspaper, allegedly received from Papua New Guinea police officers brandishing guns and a hand-grenade.

The alleged threats reportedly took place at a meeting in the capital, Port Moresby, between officials and landowners opposed to a controversial gas pipeline project.

“Urgent steps must be taken to a stop this kind of abuse of authority and to ensure that the news media are not in any danger while doing their job of informing the public,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“The government must not only condemn this threatening behaviour by the police and take measures to ensure that those responsible are punished, it must also refrain from issuing statements that could fuel the climate of suspicion and lead to more threats against journalists and to self-censorship.”

Talu was threatened when he went to the capital’s Unagi Oval district for the meeting about the proposed pipeline between a group of angry landowners and the two officials who head the Hela Transitional Authority, chairman James Marape and CEO William Bando.

The pipeline is to be built in Hela province, Southern Highlands Province and Western Highlands Province.

According to a report in the PNG Post-Courier, Talu found himself surrounded by about 15 armed police who were part of a special unit that had been flown from Mount Hagen, the capital of Western Highlands Province, by police commissioner Tom Kulunga to keep order at the meeting.

Opened fire
During the meeting, the police chased some of the landowners and opened fire on them, When Talu started to film this, the police seized his camera, demanded his press ID, pushed him and told him to leave. One police officer grabbed his mobile phone.

Another, brandishing an M-16 rifle and grenade, said: “Go away, I will blow you up.”

Referring to a front-page photo in the previous day’s Post-Courier showing gun-wielding policemen chasing landowners, one of the policemen pointed his rifle at Talu and said: “You newspapers are painting a bad picture of us policemen.”

After the incident, Talu called on police commissioner Kulunga to disarm the rogue policemen and to dismiss those who threatened him. He also said he was worried by the government’s tolerance of police abuse.

The incident came a week after the prime minister’s chief-of-staff, Ben Micah, published a notice in all the newspapers he warned against “subversive” comments online that endanger “the overall security of the nation” and urged “patriots” to be vigilant.

In a statement yesterday, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill distanced himself from his assistant’s warning, which was condemned by the New Zealand-based Pacific Media Centre.

PNG PM says internet threat idle – but do you believe him?

March 8, 2012 3 comments

aap

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Peter O’Neill says his government has no intention of setting up investigations into what’s said in the press or online about his administration.

The prime minister’s comments come a week after his chief of staff Ben Micah printed a public notice in the daily newspapers vowing those who spread “malicious and misleading” information would be “dealt with.”

When asked at a press conference in Port Moresby to clarify the statement, Mr O’Neill said his government had no intention of quashing debate in PNG’s media and blogosphere.

“There is no intention on the part of government to do that,” he said on Tuesday.

“But we just want to urge all those who participate in these sites to be a bit more responsible, to be a bit more careful, when you have malicious lies about persons, not policies.”

“You are not arguing policies of what government is doing.”

In his newspaper statement, Mr Micah called on “patriots” to turn into the authorities those who were publishing material online and via text message information “subversive to the overall security of the nation.”

“All patriots and law-abiding citizens are required to be vigilant,” the statement said.

“The military, police and the National Intelligence Organisation and other pro-government civilian networks are monitoring all attempts to destabilise the government’s firm control of the country.”

In a rare interjection during Mr O’Neill’s usually tightly run press conferences, Mr Micah said the statement was aimed at people spreading rumours of military coups.

“This is not a Stalinist regime,” Mr Micah said.

“We will be using normal government apparatus to monitor policy information.”

Approximately 1.5 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s seven million people use the internet, according to the World Bank.

Both the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pacific Media Centre (PMC) say the announcement raises deep concerns over free speech and the rights of individual privacy.

PNG has just emerged from a period of intense political turmoil after the Supreme Court ordered the return to power of ousted prime minister Sir Michael Somare without the backing of the majority of parliament.

Mr O’Neill and his supporters have been running the country since August last year, and maintained control of the nation during a failed bloodless mutiny attempt at the behest of Sir Michael’s ousted cabinet in January.

PNG social media curbs seen as totalitarian

March 1, 2012 1 comment

The executive director of the Papua New Guinea Institute of National Affairs says government attempts to rein in social media are chilling and reminiscent of what would happen in a totalitarian state.

The chief of staff in the prime minister’s office, Ben Micah, says people who spread what he calls subversive material on the internet and through mobile phones are being investigated.

The Institute’s Paul Barker says there have been occasions in the recent political turmoil when malicious or misleading information may have been made public.

But he says if there are concerns people can use the country’s slander and libel laws.

“And if clearly defamatory statements are being made, well people can take legal action to address it. Certainly having effectively threats of a range of state institutions probing private or public internet sites or dialogues on Facebook or SMS or whatever, would seem to be going overboard.”

PNG’s new media underground

March 1, 2012 4 comments

By Andrew Pascoe*

The cards seem firmly stacked against optimism on the streets of Papua New Guinea at the moment. It’s a bad sign in an election year, with little confidence evident that the outcome will correct our Pacific neighbour’s course from the particularly rocky path it’s taken in recent months.

But here — like elsewhere in the developing world where obscene power disparity is mobilising the masses — a wellspring of resistance is brewing.

In the past two years, a plethora of political blogs and Facebook chatter has sprung up, fulfilling a watchdog role the government and mainstream media have been deemed incapable of.

The targets of the new media vanguard are corruption, incompetence, and multinational corporations that get a free ride by the government at the expense of PNG’s downtrodden masses.

Potential for exploitation stands to reach new heights in coming years, with mammoth new projects in the pipeline including ExxonMobil’s $US15.7 billion LNG project in the Southern Highlands, and a growing Chinese interest being courted.

However, a growing web buzz representing savvy, pissed off Papua New Guineans is showing promising signs of being able to hold dodgy corporates to account.

Daily dispatches on Papua New Guinea Minewatch and LNG Watch blogs, for instance, have exposed an alleged whitewash by the government and ExxonMobil over a landslide near its major LNG project last month that killed at least 25 people.

“I want to be a middle man between the government and ExxonMobil, so that the landowners’ grievances about the project cannot be overlooked,” LNG Watch’s Stanley Mamu said. “The landowners at Bougainville had no middle man, and it caused a war.”

Meanwhile, PNG Exposed’s campaign for justice over a ferry that sank in January, claiming 200 lives, contributed to the government ordering an independent investigation into the tragedy. The Act Now! site is taking online activism a step further, galvanising a previously suppressed citizen voice via email campaigns a la Avaaz and GetUp!

But the burgeoning movement’s most prominent force is a Port Moresby betel-nut street vendor.

Martyn Namarong’s politically charged, plain-talking blog gets up to 3000 hits a day, a not-insignificant figure in a country where only 60,000-70,000 people have Facebook accounts.

In 2011 Namarong Report also became a key source for news media both domestic and international, as its coverage of the January military “coup” by a retired colonel proved.

“I can say that some of us, well particularly myself, shaped the story when the mutiny happened,” Namarong told me in Madang. “I created the Twitter hashtag #pngcoup, and everybody called it a coup. And it wasn’t a coup. We framed it that way because we knew the vast majority of Papua New Guineans would not back it.” Indeed, the attempt fizzled out almost immediately.

The government is slowly coming to grips with the threat: it recently advertised for staff for a social media department, and earlier this month issued a threat that people spreading “misinformation” faced arrest. The anti-censorship backlash was mushrooming at the time of print.

Prime Minister chief-of-staff Ben Micah made the comments “following recent circulation of anti-government information via text messages on mobile phones, email messages and comments being posted on social network site, Facebook … [designed] to destabilise the government’s firm control of the country.”

Is this the beginning of a Melanesian Spring? Namarong thinks Papua New Guinea is not there yet.

“The thing is those ideas haven’t crystallised in people here,” he said. “But internet use is growing, Facebook’s going to grow exponentially, and that change is going to come quicker. I now think if there has to be change in this country, it’s probably going to come in the next five to 10 years.

“The people of Papua New Guinea now have the upper hand over all those people who have been cheating them because some of us are willing to, you know, dispel all the bullshit.”

*Andrew Pascoe is a freelance journalist from Western Australia. He is currently researching dimensions of civil society in Papua New Guinea.