Pacific Media Watch

23 July 2011

PNG: Acting PM accuses Murdoch daily of trying to oust him

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A typical Post-Courier front page.

PORT MORESBY (Agence France-Presse/Pacific Scoop/Pacific Media Watch): Global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has come under fire from one of the furthest flung corners of his media empire this week, with Papua New Guinea’s acting prime minister accusing one of the media baron’s papers of trying to oust him, reports Agence France-Presse.

Acting PM Sam Abal said he was closely watching developments on the far side of the globe in London, where Murdoch’s News Corporation is under intense scrutiny over phone voicemail hacking by the now-defunct News of the World.

The scandal forced Murdoch to close the tabloid and prompted the resignation of several top executives while two of Britain’s most senior police have now quit over their handling of investigations into the issue.

Abal said the Post-Courier, which is 46 percent owned by Murdoch’s Australian division News Limited, was only a tiny element in the global organisation, but accused it of pushing for regime change in Port Moresby.

He said he had observed “the appalling conduct of journalists in manufacturing stories and demonstrating clear leanings towards determining political outcomes”, in comments carried by rival paper The National.

“Their reporting has been lacking objectivity, fairness, balance and responsibility to a point where the behaviour of the paper seems akin to the behaviour and editorial attitude of the overseas tabloid,” Abal said.

“If the editorial behaviour and attitude of the paper is instructed out of London and the empire headquarters, then I have real reason to be wary of the way my government, its readers and shareholders of the paper stand to be treated.”

Reporting ‘without fear’
The publisher of the Post-Courier, the Port Moresby-based South Pacific Post Limited, rejected Abal’s comments, saying the paper was being attacked because it dared to report without fear.

Managing director Kevin Smith dismissed suggestions that Murdoch controlled the editorial content in the oldest and largest selling national newspaper in the impoverished Pacific country.

“I, in fact as managing director, have no say in what makes the paper daily,” he said in a statement.

Smith said the paper, which was founded in 1969 and has a daily circulation of some 26,262 – far below its heyday when it was selling more than 36,000 in the early 1990s – was not involved in any illegal or questionable news gathering.

Abal has been the subject of news stories in recent weeks after his adopted son was arrested and charged over the murder of a young woman at one of his Port Moresby residences.

He was appointed acting prime minister in April in place of Sir Michael Somare, who underwent major heart surgery.

Health status
Former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta said the truth about the status of Somare’s health should now be revealed.

But he made his call a couple of hours just after Abal said Somare was already up and about from the intensive care unit in a Singapore hospital, walking around and talking.

He said this during the Roger Hauofa talk-back show on FM100.

Sir Mekere said if the Prime Minister was not able to resume duties, this must be made clear in order for the country to move on without him.

“He may still be sick but PNG cannot be put in the ice box,” he told a press conference in Parliament.

* In Fiji, in the wake of an attempted coup by maverick businessman George Speight and renegade special forces soldiers in mid-2000, another then Murdoch-owned paper, The Fiji Times, was heavily criticised for its reporting of the government headed by the country’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

It was also criticised over its reporting of the attempted coup.

The newspaper, Fiji’s oldest and most influential, was last year sold by News Limited to the local Motibhai Group following a controversial Media Decree, which curbed foreign ownership.

‘Murdoch tried to oust me’

Pacific Media Centre files on the Murdoch scandal


Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons