The death of news in PNG

By PNG Echo.

Sam Koim.
Sam Koim:

Last week, in PNG, a judicial review, in the court of Justice Colin Makail, that was to decide the fate of International Task Force Sweep (ITFS) was vacated (adjourned) pending a motion by the defendants (the Prime Minister and the National Executive Council) that Sam Koim, Chairman of ITFS (plaintiffs), show cause why firstly, he should not be charged with disobeying a court order and/or sub judice contempt, secondly, why he should not be referred to the Lawyers Statutory Committee and thirdly why the Task Force Sweep case should not be summarily dismissed.

Lawyers for the Prime Minister and NEC alleged that a court order was breached when Koim held a press conference, released a press statement, posted on social media and took out a full-page advertisement in The National that discussed the case.

These are serious allegations as Sam Koim is a lawyer: an officer of the court and should know better.

So make no mistake: this is News – big news.

National
Buried the story on Page 6

Then why did The National bury the details of the court proceedings half-way down page 6 of the next day’s (Friday’s) newspaper and the Post Courier chose not to run it until a week to the day after the decision and probably after some high powered complaints from concerned parties?

Besides, by the time the Post Courier published the outcome it was hardly ‘news’ anymore anyway.

1619383_10152728480957171_3886161359822793178_nThis notwithstanding, there were two feel-good stories (or was it three?) run about Koim in the Monday edition of Post Courier, that is, after he’d been cited for contempt and before the Post Courier had found it necessary to inform its public.

However, not charged with sub judice contempt are the publishers of the Koim ‘report’: EMTV, Post Courier, The National, PNG Loop and the plethora of social media pages and blogs that carried the offending report.

Why not?

It’s interesting that these news outlets were prepared to risk a charge of sub judice contempt to broadcast Koim’s message (they understood the risk) but did not report the court findings neither adequately nor in a timely manner.

This suggests that they are pushing a specific agenda – where are their ethics?

Media Power

The death of news and the animation of vested interests
The death of news and the animation of vested interests

Recently, I met a former Papua New Guinean Member of Parliament and senior statesman. He commented how much he appreciated the media as “we wouldn’t know what is going on if it wasn’t for them.”

I also recall a particularly cynical statement of a colleague “if we don’t report it, it hasn’t happened.”

Do the editors in PNG, those who decide what stories are ‘newsworthy’ subscribe to that last principle rather than the first – because that’s what it’s looking like?

To that very worthy PNG gentleman, I apologize because news in PNG is sick and dying and out of the ashes is rising the promotion of a dangerous, self-serving agenda backed by unknown forces.

 

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…and Makail J, thinks Koim may be too

Contemptuous, that is…

sam-koin-interviewBreaking news:

Sam Koim today has been asked to show just cause why he should not be cited for contempt by Makail J in the Waigani courts.

The hearing of the substantive case of whether Investigation Task Force Sweep should be disbanded today was vacated and it is in serious jeopardy should the contempt charge go ahead.  See article below for details.

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Brazenly contemptuous

By PNG Echo

Sam Koim is a lawyer, an officer of the court. For an officer of the court to break the law is considered serious. Sam Koim has done so – knowingly and with considerable contempt.

justice-is-blind-statue
Justice should be blind

Just a few short days before the judicial review into the disbanding of Investigation Task Force Sweep, a matter filed by Koim as the Chairman of the Investigation Task Force Sweep, against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Koim has released “A Progress Update” of Investigation Task Force Sweep that has been reported widely in the media and is contained in its entirety on the facebook page of Koim.

The report is broad, not only does it contain the statistics of cases handled but also details of funding (lack thereof) and delves into areas that, no doubt, would have been/will be argued in court next week – including whether ITFS is politically compromised (a sub-heading of the report and argued within it.)

This is sub judice contempt. Mr Koim is arguing his case in the media – taking his fight outside the court – in serious contempt of it.

He Knows

Sam Koim
Sam Koim contemptuous?

Being a lawyer, Koim would be well aware of the available defences to his actions and one of the few is the ‘public interest’ defence.

The fact that the first sentence of his report states:

It is in the public interest to disclose the progress report of Investigation Task Force Sweep (ITFS) investigations.  (my emphasis)

suggests that Koim is well-aware that he is about to commit sub judice contempt and is defending himself before the fact.

You may argue, that as Chairman, Koim has a duty to keep the public informed – and I’m sure he will argue that himself, however, it is a weak argument considering the timing of the report – it’s at a time when the scope for potential judicial influence is at its peak.

What’s more, it is recognised that:

The greater the influence of the maker of the statement, the greater the potential prejudice. (2007, Beattie and Beal p.56)

and Koim’s position gives him a wide sphere of influence both in Papua New Guinea and overseas where Koim has spoken at many prestigious conferences and been interviewed on their national television networks at peak viewing times.

Altruism?

That Koim knows he’s potentially committing a crime is without question but what could be the justifications?

Derryn Hinch. Known as the 'Human Headline' is no stranger to sub judice contempt
Derryn Hinch. Known as the ‘Human Headline’ is no stranger to sub judice contempt

In a much publicized Australian case of sub judice contempt, when Derryn Hinch, an influential Melbourne radio broadcaster, often known as a ‘shock jock’ broadcast prejudicial material about a priest undergoing trial for sexual assault on young boys in 1987, he was charged and convicted of contempt.

In his trial and his subsequent appeal to the High Court of Australia, (the first time such a case had reached the High Court) Hinch used the ‘public interest’ defence, (the same that Koim has used to justify his publication).

Hinch maintained he had acted in the public interest in broadcasting the details because the accused, a catholic priest by the name of Father Michael Glennon, was in a situation where he still had charge of young boys.

In other words, Hinch was attempting to protect the boys from further potential abuse – there was no vested interest for Hinch, that’s not the case with Koim where there is, arguably, only vested interest.

For Koim is not the only or the last corruption fighter in Papua New Guinea (and it’s considerable arrogance to present himself as such) – the fight will go on without him and is doing so with the introduction of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

It seems that Koim is stirring up public emotions in order to influence the courts to save his own skin and in contempt of them.

Furthermore, Hinch did not win his case using ‘public interest’ and was jailed and while I understand that the PNG courts have no compulsion to follow the findings in an overseas jurisdiction, I’m sure the PNG courts often find similar Australian cases very persuasive in their rulings.

According to a discussion paper put out by the Law Commission of New South Wales regarding the Hinch case:

…the general discussion of the issues surrounding paedophilia would be in the public interest and as such would not qualify as contempt… Hinch’s public interest defence would not be viable as he named the priest and his prior convictions specifically.

As in the Hinch case, Koim has been very specific.

The difference

To  those who will attempt to conflate this article with the potential sub judice contempt of Koim, let me point out the difference:

This article is dealing specifically with the subject of sub judice contempt (not the matters before the courts next week).

Sub judice means matters being considered under a judge. There have been no charges laid against Koim that I know of for sub judice contempt – but there should be.

What is everyone waiting for?  Koim has thrown down the gauntlet, brazenly, provocatively, when is someone going to pick it up?

  • 2007, Beattie, S., & Beal, E., Connect and Converge: Australian Media and Communications Law, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
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No debate, early adjournment: It’s cause and effect.

By PNG Echo.

Parliament of Papua New Guinea
Parliament of Papua New Guinea

This week, the Government of PNG rushed through legislation, including the budget with little or no debate. Afterwards, parliament was adjourned early and will not reconvene until the end of March 2016 – which could put them in breach of the rules regarding sitting days.  It will also put them outside the window of opportunity where a vote of no confidence is possible.

With the superior numbers in the government ranks they can do that.

It’s not an ideal situation but the voting behaviour indicates that there is significant confidence in this government, which was also shown by the earlier vote of confidence.

Nevertheless, the issue that dominated this sitting of parliament was the mooted and twice attempted ‘vote of no confidence’ against one of the strongest governments in PNGs national history.

This notwithstanding, it is more probable than possible that what happened these last weeks in parliament (the lack of debate, the parliamentary adjournment) was the government attending to its duties while avoiding the motion – no matter how remote the chances of its success.

Government detractors have said that the government is “scared”. I think that ‘cautious’ may be closer to the truth.

Vote of no confidence

The Leader of the Opposition, his Deputy and a ring-in,
The Leader of the Opposition, his Deputy and a ring-in, Oro Governor, Gary Juffa, who was needed if the Opposition were to get the required signatures to table the motion

While I am all in favour of democratic checks and balances of which the vote of no confidence is one, I am not in favour of how the opposition has used it.

This government’s numbers aren’t only superior, they are overwhelming.

This vote of no confidence was a simple let’s-suck-it-and-see exercise with the opposition only just managing to scrape in the bare-bones number needed to table the motion.

In the final analysis, the opposition gave the government no choice but to do what it needed to do to ensure its power base wasn’t eroded. It would be an extremely cavalier administration that would risk (however small the risk) submitting itself to such a speculative process when there were legal and legitimate ways to avoid it.

For had the motion been accepted, this would have given the opposition seven days to do its worse – more horse trading.

I mean, do you really think that the opposition would have attracted government MPs to vote with them because of their charisma, integrity and the strength of their alternate policies?

Do you think that no laws would have been broken in that seven days – no monetary gains promised in the pursuit of power?

And that’s the point.  It would need a government with a particularly stupid person at its head to think that that the vote of no confidence would be a fair fight and O’Neill is far from that.

Solutions

Michael Somare seconded the motion.
Michael Somare seconded the motion.

The only way to stop these speculative motions (as opposed to using the motion in the spirit that it was intended) is by heavily penalising the proposer and seconder of the motion if they cannot obtain significant numbers during the vote – numbers very close to winning.

Otherwise votes of no confidence are going to be abused whenever the opportunity arises and will remain an unnecessary distraction that will only prove to stymie parliamentary debate as the government is forced to direct resources into guaranteeing its own survival – resources that could be better utilized.

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SDP is not Mekere Morauta’s retirement fund, nor the SOEs the Somare’s honey pot

By PNG Echo.

The Prime Minister hits back at his critics
The Prime Minister hits back at his critics

Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill has hit back at the continued and sustained attack on the government by former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, saying his…

…ongoing stream of hate and malice  is all about the former Prime Minister trying to undermine the Government to keep control of the Sustainable Development Program (SDP) money…

He went on to say:

[Morauta] thinks that if there is a change of Government he might get to stay on and keep spending the money belonging to SDP [Sustained Development Program associated with compensation for the OkTedi mining environmental damage].

The Prime Minister, admonished the former Prime Minister, now retired politician, for playing politics from outside the parliament  He said Sir Mekere was

… a failed Prime Minister who initiated Papua New Guinea’s lost decade

(Sir Mekere’s Prime Ministership from 1999 – 2002 was followed by that of Sir Michael Somare lasting until the political coup of 2011 and is no doubt the “lost decade” of which O’Neill is referring.)

An unholy alliance

04PNG
Is this alliance forged under the premise that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend?

In spite of the recent alliance between Morauta and Somare, where they teamed up to criticize the government’s UBS deal, the fact is, Sir Mekere Morauta, has never been an admirer of the politics of Sir Michael and stood in opposition to him for most of that decade.

More recently (2011) he made a scathing attack on Sir Michael’s government and especially the performance of Sir Michael’s son, Arthur Somare on inheriting the IPBC from him. He said:

As Minister, Arthur Somare regarded the SOEs [state–owned enterprises] as toys to be owned to glorify his image,… It seems that the IPBC and its SOEs were seen as the Somare family “honey pot”

Morauta was scathing about the abortive deal done by Arthur Somare that, arguably, was the precedent that made the UBS deal necessary and he questioned “the motives of the borrowers.”

It is therefore a considerable irony that these two have become allies against the government – with the Grand Chief even willing to play second fiddle to Don Polye (the Leader of the Opposition ) – a man he never trusted to deputize for him while he was Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition, Don Polye
Leader of the Opposition, Don Polye

Given that Polye has had an alleged hand in so many corrupt deals, that these two strange bedfellows (Somare and Morauta)  would happily fall in behind him while claiming to still have altruism as their only motivation, would need a complete suspension of all disbelief.

It all smacks of self preservation and the protection of vested interests.

These government’s accusers do not have clean hands and neither do they have a right to lifetime stewardship and control of governmental assets (however controversial or fiercely fought for) and/or the right to expect that the Prime Minister position should be a sinecure or something that can be gifted to their children.

All of this belongs to the people of Papua New Guinea.

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