Punishing social media use could remove an essential check and balance on abuse of power in Papua New Guinea, warns the Pacific Freedom Forum.
“Long talked about plans for a new social media law could have a chilling effect on freedoms of speech,” says PFF Chair Titi Gabi. “Social media are an effective control on political systems including corruption.”
Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular in Papua New Guinea, with hundreds of thousands using pages, groups and profiles. That popularity has alarmed government and others concerned at free-flowing and often very critical debate.
One proposal talked about since 2012 is to introduce new laws forcing social media users to use only their real names. PFF co-Chair Monica Miller says this would be a mistake for Papua New Guinea and other Pacific countries to consider.
“In our small to tiny communities, the risks of speaking out are high.”
“Assumed names allow citizens to comment freely on the issues of the day when they are concerned about losing job, business, scholarship or other opportunities.”
“Yes, there are some users who go too far, but their impact is nothing compared to governments who do not listen to their own citizens,” says Miller.
“Governments should be focused on the far greater problem of reducing corruption, not reducing what citizens say about corruption.”
Concerns about plans for the new law were again raised after one of two daily newspapers, The National, wrote an editorial this month claiming such a law was “necessary.”
Miller says that news media need to be careful any other interests of their owners do not conflict with their responsibility as a public watchdog.
The National was established by Malaysian logging interests in 1993.
There has been widespread criticism of environmental damage by foreign and local companies in Papua New Guinea.