Yesterday The National newspaper, owned by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau aka RH, reported that complaints have been brought against the Post Courier newspaper for “alleged breaches of Media Council of Papua New Guinea code of ethics”. The complaint relates to the Post Courier’s coverage of the protest by Green Peace in Pomio where Rimbunan Hijau was alleged to have brought in thugs dressed in Police uniform to intimidate local landowners.
RH has a history of bringing down media outlets that publish news that subverts its interests. In his paper titled Corruption and Governance in Melanesia, Peter Lamour from the Australian National University outlines how Rimbunan Hijau brought down the Times Newspaper.
Newspapers have an interest in scandal. They expose corruption directly, but more often publicise the activities of state agencies that have uncovered corruption—agencies whose reports would otherwise be suppressed, or not acted upon. The Barnett Commission of Inquiry into the timber industry in Papua New Guinea, for example, produced a series of seven interim reports, and a two-volume final report deeply embarrassing to several politicians (Barnett 1990).
Only two of the interim reports were ever printed and distributed. However long extracts were published in the Times of Papua New Guinea, a weekly newspaper owned by the churches.
The importance of the media in fuelling the campaign against corruption in the timber industry was attested to, in a backhand way, when a logging company Rimbunan Hijau set up its own daily newspaper, the National in 1993 (Robie 1995:28–32). By undercutting advertising rates, and hiring staff away with offers of better conditions, the National caused or contributed to the demise of the Times in 1995. The National, according to journalist Rowan Callick, now ‘steers well clear of the huge issue of logging’ (Islands Business June 1995:47).
They’re at it again. The National is priced much lower than the Post Courier. It now claims to be the most widely circulated paper. As more people in PNG buy The National, the Post Courier drops in circulation and advertising revenue declines.
The people of Papua New Guinea play into RH’s hand and they don’t get to learn about issues of logging.