2023 World Press Freedom Day Breakfast Address by MCPNG President Neville Choi


Good Morning everyone and thank you for making time available to join us on this special day, not just for the media fraternity and its stakeholders, but an important day for our people, and for their Human Rights.

  • United Nations Resident Coordinator, Richard Howard, our Event Host; we Thank you and your Office for your support toward this morning's Breakfast event, and your ongoing support to the Media Council.
  • ABC International Development, PNG Branch Team Leader, Hare Haro, and your hardworking team from the Media Development Initiative – it is a long road ahead, but the course has been set.
  • Editors, News Managers, Reporters and Camera Personnel, our committed Civil Society partners and stakeholders…Happy 30th World Press Freedom Day!

It has been 30 years since the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed for the first time World Press Freedom Day, following a resolution by UNESCO's 26th General Conference.

Since then, the global movement celebrating World Press Freedom Day has grown, providing an inclusive platform to reaffirm the fundamental role of free, independent, and pluralistic media to take stock of challenges facing media freedom and the safety of journalists; and to raise awareness and foster partnerships to defend media from attacks; as well as to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in exercise of their work.

The year 1993 saw a landmark alignment of multilateral consensus around the importance of human rights, press freedom, and freedom of expression.

The date May 3rd acts as a reminder to governments, of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. For media professionals, today must always be a day of reflection about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

Today, this very same platform gives us an opportunity to emphasize the role of freedom of expression and media freedom as enablers of ALL other human rights, and to underscore the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of ALL human rights.

30 years on, and we have a referenced timeline to gauge the true impact of this day on the industry in which we operate. So how do we measure this impact?

A snapshot of the events Papua New Guinea experienced in 1993 will tell you:

  • That in efforts to control an exceptionally high crime rate, our National Parliament moved to strengthen anti-crime laws and to pass the Internal Security Act. An act attacked by legal experts because of its threat to internationally recognized rights, including those of Freedom of Expression, association, and movement.
  • That in October of the same year, the Ombudsman Commission filed a suit against the same Internal Security Act, claiming it 'unconstitutional'.
  • That a steadfast tradition of independence in news media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic system of government helped promote these freedoms in society.
  • And that there were moves made by the then prime minister, for the establishment of a national identification system as a necessary first step to stem the growing crime rate in the country.

1993 was also a year of natural disasters, and extreme economic hardship for our people. The role of the media then, was closely intertwined with the developmental perspectives and aspirations of our nation.

Over the past 30 years, we have seen major developments in both media pluralism; media technology, and their subsequent impact on how audiences have accessed, and consumed news and information.

Today, Papua New Guinea media organizations are facing the same difficult questions and decisions, about how to remain relevant, in an increasingly fast-moving world.

The onset of new media technologies has not only changed the way we treat news. They have created a new culture of misinformation, and disinformation. A new business culture of social media platforms interweaving individual preference algorithms into online sales and consumerism behavioral tracking.

How do we navigate all these, while retaining the important model of a self-regulating media industry?

The short answer to this question is rebuilding trust.

Last year, the Media Council of PNG signed an agreement with the Media Development Initiative of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation International Development division.

This triggered the formulation of a plan to regain and rebuild public trust in our traditional, but progressive forms of media. And 'progressive' is the simplest way to describe this. Today, we have a mainstream industry of traditionally independent media, having multi-media delivery platforms. Traditional print media are finding their feet in the online space. Traditional newsroom processes have had to be updated, and news teams upskilled. And exciting new and homegrown Online News service platforms have become part of the mainstream media family.

So why is it important now more than ever for PNG to have a credible and effective Media Council representing both the public interest, and the interests of the sector?

It is important never to underestimate the role of effective and trusted media in a developing democracy, especially one such as ours, with its many challenges.

  • It informs, educates, and gives a voice to citizens.
  • It holds government and other vested interests to account; and by doing so, contributes to the rule of law and public integrity.
  • It enables government to be more effective in communicating with citizens, and in providing services across the nation; and it supports business and the nation's economic development. None of these can be achieved unless there is a reasonable level of community trust in media, and in the accountability of media to the public.

It is more than ever, important for the Media Council, representing the sector, to function well and retain community trust, by:

  • Considering International pressures arising from political divisions, and social inequality domestically.
  • Considering and understanding the impact of social media, cybercrime and AI systems, which can spread disinformation and scams, provoke hostilities, or target young children and other vulnerable members of our communities.
  • Acknowledging concerns expressed by the PNG government that current media self-regulation processes are not working well.

Credibility of the Media Council, as much for the media sector overall, depends on the demonstration of three attributes:

  • Our expertise, not just editorially, but also in managing ourselves competently.
  • Our trustworthiness in upholding the MCPNG Industry Code of Ethics, operating an effective system of self-regulation, and promoting standards of professional development.
  • Our goodwill and commitment to the citizens and consumers of PNG, including advocating for the public interest in having free and responsible media.

These have been a tough several years for all of us, not least the Media Council, which has struggled without funding to support its functions, and without having an office to operate from. Despite this, as volunteer executives, we have maintained as best as we can, a committed mainstream media fraternity which is increasingly accountable for the work they produce for public consumption.

Our plans moving forward include:

  • Preparing for an Annual General Meeting, at which will be held fresh elections of executives and board, and a review and reconstituting of the MCPNG Constitution.
  • Restoring the Media Council's membership and processes to include new media organizations and media specialists.
  • Ensuring that the Council's Independent Complaints Tribunal is active and working.
  • Creating more accessible training pathways for all levels of media practitioners from orientation programs for news recruits, to experienced journalists on the path to greater news management responsibilities.
  • Working with Journalists Associations and Unions to ensure better remuneration and employment conditions for all media workers; and
  • Working with media organizations to ensure retention of experienced staff and industry knowledge through better workplace and safety conditions.

If it is not yet clear, at this time, we need the support of the entire media sector in demonstrating its active commitment.

May we all see today as a Call to Action to all media practitioners in the country. If you want to become a member, we want to hear from you.

With the help of our Civil Society Partner, Transparency International PNG, MCPNG as Co-Chairs of the Community Coalition Against Corruption (CCAC) received resounding support to continue in this role, as the Coalition focuses on major issues of corruption facing our country.

It is the Council's hope that the media industry can continue to work transparently as a partner to the government on its Draft Media Development Policy.

Media Freedom, despite all the criticism levelled at its practitioners, is the foundation of active, informed participation by our people. Without the mainstream media, we would not enjoy the many other freedoms we have today.

For the sake of our future generations, we must allow the media to freely, and effectively, perform its role – to hold truth to power, and to give a voice for those who find themselves voiceless in our communities domestically, and regionally in the Pacific Region.

We the free media in Papua New Guinea, can set the foundation for a regional media free to practice its craft. It is no longer a necessary tool restricted to just informing and educating. Free media in PNG continues to develop in its role as a sounding board, spotlight, and active player in our national and regional discourse – it is a necessary pillar of democracy, and one that should be defended at every cost.

To all our Editors and News Managers, the responsibility of lifting our industry standards rests solely on your shoulders as defenders of the front line.

You have the MCPNG's support in ensuring that proper training pathways are established for all levels of our industry personnel.

To all our media practitioners, the work you do every day is necessary. For today, and for our people tomorrow.

Be diligent, be proactive, and be innovative in how you disseminate information and news.

Know that lives depend on how you frame and tell your stories. You are an important part of our country's public discourse.

Wield this power with responsibility.

In 2013, I was privileged to attend an emerging online news development conference in Singapore, as part of EMTV's plans to establish its Online News Platform.

At this workshop, we learnt about the potential of using crowd sourcing from social media platforms, as a means of detecting and diagnosing consumer behaviour in relation to news.

One of the leading innovators in this new space was Crowd-Sourcing and Data Journalism pioneer, Rappler, founded by Maria Ressa, who later became the recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Her company's role in providing a voice for the voiceless against a suppressive government was the personification of the media, being the cornerstone of democracy.

I would like to share a quote from her about the true essence of facts and factual news reporting:

"Without facts, you can't have truth. Without truth, you can't have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with our world's existential problems: climate, coronavirus, and the battle for truth."



Neville Choi

President - Media Council of PNG