MICHAEL ANDREW | Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch
AUCKLAND - Journalists across Papua New Guinea have spoken out in support of EMTV news director Neville Choi after his “unacceptable” termination from a role he had held for six years.
Choi was reinstated by EMTV on Wednesday in the wake of the protests.
A public statement released on Monday had listed the reasons for his termination, one of which was his refusal to ‘bury’ a February 2019 story about the PNG Defence Force pay strike outside the prime minister’s office.
However, EMTV deputy head of news, Scott Waide, told Pacific Media Watch the news was broadcast because it was balanced and the fallout had already been resolved internally.
“Neville did his job as head of news and a journalist. He took both sides of the story and we ran it on EMTV news,” said Waide.
“There was nothing conflicting about the story but the fact that he defied the orders of the acting CEO didn’t go well with the management and they issued a warning letter to him.”
Another reason given for the termination was Choi’s defiance of a directive from EMTV’s parent, Kumul Telikom Holdings Ltd, to fire Waide himself for his coverage of the 2018 APEC summit.
The story had reported New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision not to use the controversial government Maseratis during the summit.
When Choi refused the directive, management suspended Waide until an angry public backlash saw him reinstated.
Choi received a warning from management for his refusal to follow directives.
Waide said he and the other journalists at EMTV could not understand the logic of using long-resolved issues as an excuse to terminate someone.
“What management in their right mind would table something that they’ve already issued a warning letter for and resolved and then put it in a termination letter?” he asked.
While fellow journalists rallied in support of Choi, Waide said the saga had affected the morale of the newsroom and compromised plans and strategies that were in place.
“It has pretty much destabilised the whole EMTV newsroom and management, but also it jeopardises our international links with organisations like Reuters, RNZ, and ABC because Neville is the main point of contact.”
“Neville is a credible journalist in his own right,” he said.
“He’s set the standard in terms of his professionalism and he’s been in news management for 20 years.
“He’s not a controversial person. He’s just a very down-to-earth journalist who does his job. He’s being very loyal to EMTV and he’s built up a formidable team.
“They look up to him for support and leadership; to have that important element removed like that has been very upsetting for many people, not just within EMTV but outside as well.”
Waide said when staff expressed their concerns about the termination they were intimidated by acting CEO Sheena Hughes and human resources personnel.
“They told them if you are unhappy with this decision we will happily show you the door.”
While Meriba Tulo was made acting news director, she and the rest of the EMTV news team protested against the termination by walking off the job, forcing the broadcaster to replay a news bulletin for the first time in 30 years.
Social media erupted with comments of support for Choi and outrage over his termination.
Journalists and cameramen were urged not to accept offers of work from EMTV to fill the void left by the striking news team.
On Facebook, journalist Harlyne Joku stressed the need for a union group to represent the PNG media.
“We need to seriously consider forming a PNG journalists union to help us stand in solidarity to peacefully protest and negotiate issues affecting our colleagues, in this case the termination of EMTV news director Neville Choi,” she wrote.
“If EMTV staff protest or go on a sit in strike they can be terminated too. Let’s start by forming a journalists union.”
A Facebook post from former Post-Courier editor and chair of the PNG Media Council Alexander Rheeney called for Sheena Hughes to stand down and condemned the interference of Kumul Telikom Holdings Ltd in independent news.
According to former EMTV journalist Sylvester Gawi, commercial and government interference in the PNG media is a common occurrence.
“Journalism in PNG is no longer free. Commercial TV stations like EMTV are owned by Kumul Telikom Holdings Limited, a government entity, and it is nonetheless controlled by the government through the board,” he told Pacific Media Watch.
“I was asked to resign from EMTV in 2015 after I refused to do a story for one of their commercial clients.
“I see that as much as we need commercial clients to support EMTV’s operation, the newsroom should not be expected to compromise its stance with commercial partners.”
However, Gawi said Choi’s termination set a dangerous precedent and would only add to the demise of journalism in PNG.
“I believe journalism in PNG would go down the drain if we tolerate such actions like the termination of Neville Choi for standing up for his news team.”