WHEN prime minister Peter O’Neill welcomed the passing of Papua New Guinea’s cybercrime legislation this week, he said the internet must be a place where "human rights are respected and cowards not misuse technology to hurt people and incite violence.”
Commentator Martyn Namorong’s immediate response was to say he was quitting his long-running and respected blog, The Namorong Report.
He said the new laws had elements that caused him concern, including a section with vague references to "defamation" and "undermining the state"which could potentially be used to quash criticism of the government.
"You use social media to talk about protesting, for instance,” Namorong told Radio New Zealand International. “Is that undermining the state or undermining the government? Where does it stop in a democratic society like PNG wants to be? It's really quite scary."
Astute observer of PNG affairs, Corney Alone, responded in a comment in PNG Attitude: “So long as we blog, post articles on social media, write opinions and commentaries through news outlets … with the sprinkling of basic understanding of ethics, laws that govern any jurisdiction etc, we really should have nothing to fear.”
And ended with a rebuke, “Fear overplayed is citizenship abdication.”
O’Neill’s view is that “it is only people who break laws, incite violence and who bully or slander who have to be concerned that their actions will see them become the subject of a criminal investigation. I dismiss the claims raised by individuals who hide behind fake online names by night, but by day pretend to be neutral in their jobs.
“There are even a few individuals at some mainstream media who fit into this category and it is in their own interest to show courage and declare their political allegiances. Indeed I call on all people who hide behind fake names and hidden profiles to come forward and present your views under your real names.”
The position of PNG Attitude, as expressed in our own guidelines to contributors, is clear. First of all, we believe publishers of information on social media must accept responsibility for it and exercise reasonable editorial control.
“Most contributions are edited,” our guidelines say. “Why? Because it is a simple truth that people who write are not always the best judges of how their words will be understood by people who read. Nor are most people familiar with the laws of defamation.
“People sometimes mistake their strongly held beliefs for more general truths. And they do not always fully comprehend the effect of their words on others.”
I recently remonstrated with one of our local newspapers, the Sunshine Coast Daily, for publishing letters expressing bigoted and otherwise extreme views about Muslims and other minorities. The editor intervened and a more civilised and responsible tone now characterises the Daily's letters pages.
This blog's guidelines also discuss the issue of anonymity. PNG Attitude discourages the use of false names and usually rejects such contributions, also deleting comments with false email addresses.
We do, however, provide for cases where people are legitimately concerned that publication of their names may endanger them or in some other way be a threat.
We agree with prime minister O’Neill that it is unacceptable for people to use false names to cover up disinformation or as a shield behind which to launch cowardly attacks.
On balance, our view of the new cyber legislation is that it does carry with it the potential to crack down on free expression on social media but that, applied responsibly, it will encourage publishers to avoid the dissemination of defamatory or otherwise grossly offensive and irresponsible material.
PNG Attitude will keep a weather eye on the PNG government's use of its new laws. Certainly there are social media sites in PNG which need to take a more responsible approach to their role.