PNG bloggers claim law firm censoring corruption report


Bloggers in Papua New Guinea claim they are trying to be censored by a law firm targeting internet service providers over their circumvention of a legal ruling.

The country's growing blogging community has managed to evade a suppression order that a lawyer and a former solicitor general had placed on a corruption report.

In March, the government released the report into dealings at the government's finance department which apprently named several prominent legal figures.

But while the lawyers managed to secure an injunction on media reporting of the findings, the online community did not comply.

Presenter: Liam Fox, PNG correspondent
Speaker: Nancy Sullivan, blogger from PNG's Madang province; Effrey Dademo, founder of Act Now! blog;

LIAM FOX: It's only in the last few years that internet speeds in PNG have increased to a point where surfing the net is no longer a frustrating experience. It's become something of a unifying force in a country divided by rugged terrain and hundreds of distinctly different cultures. There are now several popular blogs where people from across PNG share their thoughts on a range of issues. In a country struggling with corruption they've given Papua New Guineans an avenue to vent their frustration with politicians, bureaucrats and the police.

Nancy Sullivan writes a blog from Madang on PNG's north coast.

NANCY SULLIVAN: I think it is the way forward. It doesn't take a Grade 12 certificate to run a computer these days and I think people, the farther we get our wireless services out to the bush, the more people power we are creating. People who talk, who blog their minds and also come up with new ideas about how to transform their future. It is fantastic. It is absolutely fantastic.

LIAM FOX: But the new-found freedom of expression provided by the internet is under threat and like many things in PNG it's a long and complicated story. Back in March the prime minister Sir Michael Somare released the results of a long-running inquiry into dodgy dealings at the finance department. It investigated concerns bureaucrats were colluding with lawyers and others to pay out huge sums of money for fraudulent compensation claims made against the state.

But only a day later lawyer Paul Paraka and former solicitor-general Zachary Gelu went to court and won an injunction gagging the media from reporting the inquiry's findings. The government was also prevented from implementing its recommendations until the mens' claim that they'd been wrongly implicated by the inquiry was heard in court. Enter the blogosphere. Bloggers stepped in to fill the vacuum caused by the injunction on the mainstream media. In particular the blog PNGexposed obtained a copy of the inquiry's 800-page report and uploaded extracts onto its website. But now the lawyers have hit back. In a letter to one of PNG's biggest internet service providers Paul Paraka Lawyers request the "immediate blocking" of four blogs including PNGexposed.

EXTRACT FROM LETTER FROM PAUL PARAKA LAWYERS: This request is a directive in the form of a court order that prohibits any media organisation, including the internet service providers, from producing and spreading unfounded rumours about our law firm.

LIAM FOX: Act Now! is one of the blogs on the list and Effrey Dademo is its founder.

EFFREY DADEMO: It is really unhealthy to be doing that, to prevent people from expressing themselves. They have every right to express themselves.

LIAM FOX: Ms Dademo says all she's done on her blog is to point to what others have written about the suppressed report.

EFFREY DADEMO: We have nothing on the report. We don't even have a copy of the report. I don't know what it says and whatever the other blogs are doing, that is really none of our business and we cannot comment on what they are doing.

LIAM FOX: The letter from Paraka Lawyers also says any blogs or junk emails containing the names of Paul Paraka, Zachary Gelu and two other men should be blocked. The other two are the finance secretary Gabriel Yer and former senior public servant Isaac Lupari. Mr Paraka declined to be interviewed but did say he's trying to stop faceless bloggers from tarnishing people's reputations. PNG's internet service providers or ISPs have also been unwilling to comment publicly fearing they may be dragged into a lawsuit. But one did say that asking ISPs to block blogs and emails is like asking road builders to be responsible for the actions of motorists - in short impossible.

Nancy Sullivan's blog is another one of the four on Paraka's hit list. Like Effrey Dademo from Act Now! she says her website does not contain any extracts from the suppressed report.

NANCY SULLIVAN: I never blogged any part of the transcript. It is bizarre that their research department is so bad that I mean, it is really kind of stab in the dark there, isn't it. I am sure that there are other blogs that have but the truth is that we really don't put anything out there that hasn't been published in the print media already.

LIAM FOX: Ms Sullivan says it would be a shame if there were any moves to shut down or censor blogs in PNG.

NANCY SULLIVAN: I feel that it would be so embarrassing, a gesture like that if it were effective would draw so much international attention, like China during the Olympics, that it would be more damaging than not.

LIAM FOX: So far Paraka Lawyers have not made any moves in court to seek to enforce their request. Meanwhile the court order preventing the publication of the report into the finance department remains in place more than three months after it was granted.


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