THE SOUTH PACIFIC'S biggest selling newspaper - and one of the most outspoken -
last month brushed aside claims that it was up for sale after three weeks of
Community leaders and media personalities feared a major setback for freedom of
the press in Papua New Guinea had the controlling interest in the Post-Courier
been sold to a business and political consortium close to Prime Minister Bill
Peter Chegwyn, chairman of South Pacific Post Ltd, publishers of the Post-Courier
and a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd group, strongly denied the rumours
that the PNG Banking Corporation was considering buying out the 63 per cent News
stake in the company.
PNGBC executive chairman Peter O'Neill also denied the rumours. O'Neill recently
resigned as president of Skate's fledgling PNG First Party but he is still
closely aligned with the Skate administration.
Skate seeks a more compliant news media and was particularly angered by the
Post-Courier's reporting of an alleged plea by military commander
Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok to the prime minister to have sedition charges
dropped against him over the Sandline rebellion.
When Skate returned from a brief visit to China last month, he made it clear that
he did not like "negative" reporting by the PNG press. He said the news media in
China, Malaysia and Singapore were an example to PNG.
"You in the media are very powerful, and you can build or destroy people by what
you do," he told journalists.
Acknowledging that the media should be "independent and impartial", he added: "I
think there is something to learn from how these people promote their country and
The minority shareholders outside the News Ltd and other Australian interests are
individual Papua New Guineans, the Post Office Savings Bank, the Public Employees
Association and the Defence Force Retirement Fund, which collectively hold about
29.34 per cent.
Post-Courier's circulation reached a peak of 41,000 in 1994, but it dropped after
a rival daily newspaper, the Malaysian-owned National, was launched.
After the Post-Courier edged back again with steady circulation increases over
the next three years, all PNG newspapers lost circulation heavily during 1998 in
the face of an economic recession. The Post-Courier currently has audited sales
of almost 28,000.
Asked about the sale rumours, Chegwyn said in an interview with Ruth Waram that
the Post-Courier would continue to support the "constitutional rights of Papua
New Guineans" and would fight to protect them.
Denying that there was any substance to the rumours, he said: "The paper will
continue to be published as it is today, to be managed by the people it is
managed by today, and the editorial under Oseah Philemon will continue on.
"There are no plans for any changes in the culture of the Post-Courier ... I mean
that the management, accounting, publishing, editorial, no changes whatsoever are
Chegwyn said if any internal changes were planned in the company they would be
handled by managing director Tony Yianni and by editor Oseah Philemon.
He said the media had an important role to play in a developing country such as
Papua New Guinea, and the Post-Courier would continue to play its role.
Chegwyn said the paper would "be accountable to the people of Papua New Guinea
first and foremost".
"We unashamedly support the constitutional rights of Papua New Guineans and will
fight to the last drop of ink to protect them.
"We support good government by the people who place the national interest ahead
of personal interests," he said.
Chegwyn added that investors currently needed certainty and confidence, and PNG
also needed to improve on how it was perceived from the outside.
He said many companies were now reviewing their operations in light of the
current tough economic conditions, both locally and globally.
Meanwhile, South Pacific Post Ltd is expected to put a bold five-year development
plan to the News Ltd board early in 1999. The plan is expected to include
proposals to move the printing headquarters of the Post-Courier to Lae and to
launch a chain of community and provincial level newspapers.
Another newspaper group, the churches-owned World Publishing Ltd, is also looking
at printing in Lae to cut back on the heavy air freight costs from the capital of
Port Moresby to the rest of the country.
David Robie is journalism coordinator of the University of the South Pacific
and has just visited Papua New Guinea.