Vanuatu Daily News Digest | PNG adopts harsh new social media lawsPosted: October 24, 2015
The World Today
By Eric Tlozek
Updated yesterday at 6:10pm
Thu 22 Oct 2015, 6:10pm
Papua New Guinea’s government is preparing to crack down on people who use social media sites to criticise politicians.
It is enacting a new law that makes it illegal to "improperly" use the internet to transmit "offensive" or "false" information.
The PNG government says the law is necessary to curtail the rising use of social media as a forum for personal attacks.
But political bloggers and PNG’s media are outraged at what they say is an attempt to stifle political debate and cover up corruption.
In recent years many Papua New Guineans have gone from not having a telephone to being on social media, and they are increasingly using sites like Facebook to critique their leadership.
PNG’s communications minister Jimmy Miringtoro said some people were using social media to spread false information about the government and the actions of politicians.
"People are using devices that use internet to create problems," he said.
"Tarnishing a person’s name … can create a very bad situation in the country because some people may not think properly and can react and create a situation where there can be fight or whatever."
The new regulations create an offence of "improper use" of information and communications technology.
People could face a fine of up to $A10,000 or jail if they spread "offensive" or "false" information online.
Martyn Namorong is a writer and political blogger who could potentially fall foul of the laws.
"The fact they’ve enacted such laws indicates that the government clearly does not understand what it’s trying to control, so they create such laws out of fear," he said.
Mr Namorong is promising to keep writing about politics.
"I definitely will not stop writing online," he said.
"I definitely will not stop speaking out about things. I definitely will not stop using very strong language."
The package of laws go further than social media use.
Communications minister Mr Miringtoro said they were aimed at stopping cybercrime.
"Those people who transmit pornographic material, those people who use ICT device to tarnish other people’s name, those people who do threatening, those people who steal information."
The minister said the laws were not intended to curtail freedom of speech.
Rather, he said he hoped they would bring some respect to the political debates occurring online.
"People must be responsible when they are talking about certain topics and they were discussing certain issues," he said.
"They must not go beyond, something that is not true, something that can tarnish other people’s name."
Blogger Martyn Namorong actually agrees that the changes could improve the standard of political debate because they will separate the amateur bloggers from those who have more experience and insight.
But he said politicians and senior bureaucrats were in privileged positions and needed to develop thicker skins.
"Once you become a public figure you should expect a few insults and a few harsh words being used against you. It’s just part of the job," he said.
"People who think that they want to hold public offices yet do not want to be open to scrutiny are undemocratic, dictatorial fascists, and those are the people who are enacting such laws in Papua New Guinea."
The new laws take effect from January.