Police and polling officials prevented local media from filming or photographing inside the Port Moresby netball centre. (ABC: Eric Tlozek)
Free speech is being silenced during Papua New Guinea’s national elections according to the country’s Media Council.
PNG’s electoral commissioner obtained a court order preventing a well-known blogger from using social media to criticise his handling of the election.
The media were also banned from taking photos and footage inside Port Moresby’s main counting venue.
Both moves come amid strident criticism of the chaotic elections, which have been plagued by disputes, delays and widespread exclusion of voters.
Police and polling officials prevented local media from filming or photographing inside the Port Moresby netball centre, after a newspaper photographer tried to take a picture of a disputed ballot box.
The election manager is then alleged to have slapped a scrutineer who argued for the media’s right to record, leading police to arrest and charge the manager with assault.
Filming is now restricted, to the dismay of the president of PNG’s Media Council, Alexander Rheeney.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said.
“Why do you have to ban the media from having access to a counting venue when the Electoral Commission has come under so much scrutiny in the last couple of weeks over how it’s conducting the elections?”
Counting is underway in Port Moresby’s main counting venue, located in a netball centre. (ABC: Eric Tlozek)
Mr Rheeney said restricting the media would further undermine confidence.
“At the end of the day the Electoral Commission wants to ensure it’s transparent and accountable to the people,” he said.
“When you’re banning the media, it means you’re banning Papua New Guineans from having access to the electoral process.
“It’s an unfortunate incident and I condemn the Electoral Commission for doing that.”
Electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato said the media were free to cover the counting.
“They are not banned, they can go ahead and cover,” he said.
But while the ABC was allowed to film, police and polling officials stopped local media from accessing the counting area and taking pictures.
‘I don’t look like a tomato’: Electoral commissioner
PNG’s electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato took court action against a blogger. (ABC: Eric Tlozek)
The restrictions followed court action by the electoral commissioner against well-known blogger Martyn Namorong.
The commissioner said he was insulted and defamed when Mr Namorong mocked his surname.
“He made some defamatory statements and also called my surname, which is Gamato, as Tomato,” he said.
“I don’t look like a tomato, I’m a human being. So that’s defamatory so I had to take him to court.”
Martyn Namorong’s lawyer, Christine Copland, said her client was not given a chance to respond to the application.
“Martyn didn’t have an opportunity to be heard when the notice of motion was moved,” she said.
The commissioner’s lawyer, Kembo’nga Kawat, sought to have the notice published in PNG’s national newspapers instead of serving the application on Namorong.
He then posted on Facebook to say it was a warning to all of the country’s “keyboard warriors”.
Mr Rheeney said such tactics were a concern.
“It’s set a precedent now and it means that other commentators will not feel comfortable holding the electoral commissioner and the Electoral Commission to account over how they conduct the general election,” he said.
“I just hope it doesn’t mean the electoral commissioner, Mr Gamato, escapes scrutiny.”