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Facebook ban would stifle dissent of the people’s parliament

Alan Bird MP
Alan Bird MP says Facebook is the 'people's parliament' which gives citizens a voice

BEN PACKHAM The Australian

CANBERRA - The Papua New Guinea government has been accused of trying to stifle dissent in the lead-up to this year’s APEC conference with a plan to take Facebook offline in the country for a month.

Free press organisation Reporters without Borders this week condemned the plan as a move by the government to silence online critics, particularly those sounding the alarm over corruption.

Amid growing criticism of the ban, opposition MP Allan Bird warned it would alarm APEC nations as PNG prepared to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leader’s week in November.

Communications minister Sam Basil announced the ban late last month, saying it was to identify “fake accounts” and users who posted “false, misleading information”.

“This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly,” he said.

PNG’s roughly 900,000 internet consumers are big users of Facebook, which has become the primary means of sharing sensitive political stories that mainstream media would be reluctant to report.

Stung by criticism from bloggers and political opponents, the O’Neill government last year moved to criminalise “defamatory publication” and online bullying in a new Cyber Crime Act.

Daniel Bastard, the Asia-Pacific head of Reporters Without Borders, said blocking the social media network would deprive almost a million people of access to independently reported information.

“Instead of resorting to censorship, [Mr Basil] should encourage online platforms to be more transparent and responsible about content regulation,” he said.

“We urge PNG authorities not to take this road.”

Mr Bird said Facebook had become the “people’s parliament” in PNG, giving people a voice on how their country was run.

Long-time PNG watcher Paul Flanagan said politicians were sensitive to criticism: “There is a fair bit of antagonism among parliamentary members about the way free speech operates.”

Online stories about alleged extramarital affairs and corruption by politicians had infuriated senior government MPs.


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JK Domyal

The reason purported by the Information and Communication Minister to shut off Facebook for a month is not a genuine reason. It would be better if he explained the whole truth as to why?

The reason was more than he initially uttered. Let’s take a further step down the memory lane before Facebook became accessible here and reiterated what the public had to say.

News reported by Post Courier and National are rigged and biased towards those in power and do not present neutral information to the general public.

The general public's frustration grew over time since then while those in power smiled to themselves that the Post Courier and The National sealed them from public scrutiny.

After a few years FB became accessible and news updates provided there are in many cases neutral and sufficient for readers. That’s why people spend money to get top ups for their phones and access FB rather than the newspapers.

The catchphrase now is that those in power are not able to control FB and, over time, FB has put them in the limelight of all the things they got away with through the two daily newspapers.

Due to growing frustration by those in power, as the last resort, decided to shut off FB. Pity on Hon Minister Sam Basil. Now the unexposed will still be exposed through FB, their jurisdiction and manipulation will be limited.

Remember your proposal will end up in court and you will lose terribly.

Maclay Lamang

Information is crucial. It has the power to break or to make. This explains why the O'Neill government is troubled when mass information regarding political corruption is made known through Facebook, uncensored.

Unlike the mainstream media, where press censorship and monopolising such information is the editors' paycheck.

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