Friday, November 20, 2009

Asians in PNG should now boycott Post-Courier!



WOULD you defend a blatant and deliberate lie? Yes, by all means … at least in PNG’s liberal media environment, Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid Post-Courier had shown in the past week that it would.

Not really. Because over the years, Post-Courier has flaunted its sheer arrogance as it printed on its pages stories whose credibility were immediately questionable, but bothering not to admit to the transgression and to rectify it.

And worst, it has even fabricated anti-Asian reports, passed them on as truth, and for which the reporters and editors stood by them even to the demise of their own credibility.

One classic example which stands unparalleled yet in the Pacific was showcased on Page 1 by this paper just very recently.

It headlined a fabricated report that proved to be very damaging to the reputation of some 10,000 Filipinos here in PNG and peddled it across the nation as “the plain truth”.

I remember my country’s despot, President Marcos, who had once said that “lies when repeatedly uttered become the truth”.

As far as I am concerned, Marcos’ dictum and what Post-Courier does in its every day reporting where it peddles lies here and there don’t differ that much. Henceforth, what this daily dishes out would always be deemed as lies, however hard you try to believe them, simply because the credibility has passed out of existence.

For one thing, it has allowed its cronies to malign and destroy some Asian reputations and institutions using its pages where lies had crawled all over, but denying those aggrieved the same opportunity of having their side on the issue at hand to see print in this very same paper, only to be told that such rejection was a management “business decision”.

The events that transpired last week had been the most unsettling, upsetting and stressing for the members of the Filipino expatriate community in Papua New Guinea.

On Tuesday, November 10, Pinoys in Port Moresby and across the country woke up to find themselves in the midst of alleged 16,000 illegal compatriots.

Having read Post-Courier’s fabricated report that there are “16,000 illegal Filipinos out of the 19,000 who are in the country right now”, they were utterly horrified and in great shock.

A simple arithmetic would immediately show there would only be 3,000 Filipinos living and working legally in the country and they include a few hundreds of those who have acquired PNG citizenship and permanent resident (PR) status. This is not the case, however.

The source of the alleged statistics, according to Post-Courier, was Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario, who, on Friday, November 6, purportedly testified at the Parliamentary Bi-Partisan committee probing the anti-Asian riots last May.

In her alleged testimony before a panel chaired by MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham, Madam Ho-Vicario has disclosed there are 19,000 Filipinos in PNG and of this, 80 percent, or 16,000 are illegal aliens.

The Maxtone-Graham panel wanted to know what triggered the marginalized Papua New Guineans to go into rioting and looting variety shops and grocery stores owned and operated by Chinese in the Highlands and in Port Moresby.

The locals are said to hate illegal aliens, particularly Asians whose numbers are growing because they feel that they are robbing them of jobs and livelihoods reserved for them under the law.

Shortly before noon, a flurry of emails was exchanged among Pinoy expatriates who expressed disbelief that there are 16,000 illegal Filipino workers in the country.

But their immediate reaction to the report was: “How could the Ambassador say such things that would give negative picture of the many Filipinos who are here legally and at the same time threaten their safety?

A number have even rebuked the Ambassador, calling her “traitor” and “stupid” for making public such a highly-sensitive and derogatory information.

Pinoy expatriates in Lae were up in arms, berating the Ambassador for the same reason.

One angry expatriate had even called the Philippine Embassy in Port Moresby with a threat to burn it down “for making the Filipinos look bad in the eyes of the international community”.

It could not be helped. Thousands of Pinoys in PNG are legally employed as professionals, -- accountants, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, IT experts, foresters, mining managers, company managers, administrative officers, among many others.

Joey Sena, the president of the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG), has called for sobriety and calm as he urged the members of the community to be vigilant of their own safety against possible physical harm that may arise following the Post-Courier report.

On the morning that the Post-Courier story broke, Madam Ho-Vicario was nursing a blood pressure already gone berserk as she read the news report, horrified that it has put words into her mouth.

“This is a pure fabrication!” she said of the story.

“How did they (Post-Courier) come up with these figures?”

I interviewed Madam Ho-Vicario at the embassy that afternoon. Distressed and fuming, she vehemently denied the report.

“The Filipino community has been put at risk because of these anti-Asian sentiments, and I, as the representative of the Philippine government here in PNG, have been maligned by the report.

“I’m vehemently denying the report … it’s all fabricated … it has no factual basis … it’s unfounded and far from the truth.

“I demand that Post-Courier retract the story and print the truth.

“There could never be 19,000 Filipinos living and working here in this country,” the Ambassador said.

“I never appeared on the said committee hearing on that day to give evidence on the anti-Asian riots.

“I was never interviewed on that matter or present at the Bi-partisan Parliamentary Inquiry last Friday.

“I never knew who MP (Philip) Kikala is, I didn’t know how he looked … I just didn’t know him,” Madam Ho-Vicario rattled off.

“I would never be able to recognize him from Adam even if you put him in front of me unless he has his nametag pinned on his chest!”

MP Kikala was the source that provided Post-Courier the fabricated figures of “19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal”.

Madam Ho-Vicario said there are only 10,120 expatriates in the country as of June 19. About 670 of them are permanent residents, 6,600 are temporary migrants (work permit and working visa holders) and the rest are holders of tourist visa and business visa.

Just before I filed my story on the Ambassador’s denial, I called Post-Courier’s editor-in-chief Blaise Nangoi for comment.

 “We stand by our story,” he told me.

Mr Nangoi said their report was based on information their reporter obtained from a source (Mr Kikala) that was at the parliamentary committee hearing last November 6 when Madam Ho-Vicario purportedly testified.

Categorically denying this, the Ambassador said: “I was never present at the Parliament last Friday”.

The National, the leading daily in PNG, carried the denial story the next day, Wednesday, November 11, and was headlined: “Philippine Embassy denies “aliens” report.

On that day, Mr Maxtone-Graham sent an official letter to the Ambassador saying: “The front page report stated in part that you appeared in person before my inquiry on Friday, November 6, during which you gave evidence that 16,000 out of 19,000 Filipino residents in this country are doing so illegally.

“I wish to state categorically that you never appeared before my inquiry, either in person or through a representative on the date as stated by Post-Courier. Neither have we received any written submission from your Embassy.

“The newspaper report is quite erroneous …,” Mr Graham stressed.

On that night when I phoned Mr Nangoi for his comment, he said: We will not make any further report on this matter … we stand by our report.”

However, Post-Courier had a change of heart, and in its November 12 edition, published the Ambassador’s denial of her being present at the committee hearing. The daily finally admitted that it made an error in reporting that she appeared at the committee that Friday to testify.

“She did not attend and made a submission,” Post-Courier curtly said.

But still, the paper stubbornly defended its claim on the presence of 16,000 illegal Filipinos. It reported that Mr Kikala testified on a bi-partisan committee hearing last Monday (November 9) that the Ambassador “informed” him about the 16,000 illegal Filipinos in the country.

ow, it is very clear that Post-Courier has confused itself in making the report in an effort to steer clear out of further embarrassment.

First, it reported that Madam Ho-Vicario appeared at the hearing on Friday, November 6, where she purportedly testified on the presence of 16,000 illegal Filipinos out the 19,000 expatriates. But later, it backtracked and admitted that she never did so.

Then, Post-Courier contradicted itself again when it reported in its November 12 edition that it was now Mr Kikala who testified at the committee hearing on November 9 where he declared that the Ambassador “informed” him of the 16,000 illegal Filipinos.

However, instead of making Mr Kikala’s testimony the main story for the next day (November 10), it was Madam Ho-Vicario’s fabricated appearance and concocted testimony last November 6 that made the headline.

And worst, Mr Kikala was unable to tell Post-Courier on what occasion did the Ambassador divulge to him the derogatory information. Was it during a parliamentary bi-partisan hearing? Was it during lunch or dinner? Or was it during a cocktail party?

From whom did Mr Kikala obtain his statistics? Or, did he deliberately cook up some “blockbuster” story to get some attention and pluck himself out of non-revenue obscurity?

It is ironic that while the Ambassador has categorically said she “never knew MP Kikala or ever met him”, the MP insisted on claiming that he obtained the information directly from her.

JUST BEFORE Madam Ho-Vicario was posted in PNG as the Philippine government’s ambassador in February 2007, she was fully aware of the number of Filipinos that her embassy would be representing in the country. She knew too that PNG is a hardship post.

“There’s no way for me to commit the mistake of giving wrong figures pertaining to the number of Pinoys in Port Moresby,” she told me. “I’m not stupid.”

Over the years, the number of Filipino expatriates here has played between 8,000 and 10,000, with many of them going home after their contracts expired, but only to be replaced by new recruits.

And the presence of illegal Filipino workers would be one of her concerns because every time they would be in trouble, they would come to the embassy for help. But there were not many, as the Ambassador has noted since her posting more than two years ago now.

With very limited resources the embassy has, dealing with cases involving illegal Filipinos who would come for assistance would be a nagging problem even if there are only a handful of them.

How much more with 16,000? There’s just no sense for her to just dish out statistics just for kicks without creating problems later for the expatriate Filipinos and the embassy itself.

But then, if ever there are 16,000 illegal Filipinos, it should not be a problem for the Philippine Embassy to deal with. It belongs to the PNG Immigration Department.

And if there are that many, how come the PNG Government is never aware of them?

Now, the Filipino community is asking: “What is Mr Kikala’s agenda? Why is he trying to connive with Post-Courier in maligning Filipinos and foment racist’s hatred among Papua New Guineans against them? Are they moonlighting as racists?”

Why did Post-Courier reject a whole-page paid advertorial that the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG) was trying to place with the daily for the Monday (November 16) edition?

 n this advertorial, the association is asking Post-Courier to rectify its story and correct the negative impression about the 10,000 Filipino expatriates that has been generated by its irresponsible reporting.

It said: “The Post-Courier report has caused enormous damage to our reputation as peace-loving, law-abiding and charitable residents of the international community in Papua New Guinea.

“Now, we are suddenly concerned over our safety, because erroneous report has created animosity among Papua New Guineans who feel marginalized by the present state of affairs in their own country because of enterprising Asians who they feel are robbing them of their livelihood and jobs.

“Therefore, for the sake of fair and honest journalism, we the Filipino community, respectfully ask the Post-Courier to retract its story and correct the negative impression about the 10,000 Filipino expatriates that has been generated by its irresponsible reporting.

“It is only then that our trust and confidence in this newspaper as a source of news and vital information will be restored,” the association said in the supposed advertorial for publication in Post-Courier.”

Rejecting the requested (paid) advertorial placement, Post-Courier told FAPNG president Joey Sena, as if to justify its move: “It is a business decision.”

Does this mean that it is also Post-Courier’s business to besmirch the reputation of the Filipinos when it fabricated the “16,000 aliens” report?

But FAPNG is only a small fry and Post-Courier has no problem doing it. It has done the same thing to a bigger institution like the PMIZ project, short for Pacific Marine Industrial Zone, an 815-hectare tuna processing zone now taking shape in Madang province.

Post-Courier, according to some senior Government sources, has allegedly collaborated with a certain Dr Nancy Sullivan, an American anthropologist based in Madang and who flaunts her newly-acquired PNG citizenship as her shield, in trying to sabotage the realization of the billion dollar PMIZ, a pet economic development project of Prime Minister Michael Somare.

Post-Courier did this by printing a series of damaging one-whole page advertorials paid for by ragtag groups of landowners and NGOs as well as a one-page advertorial authored by Sullivan herself discrediting the PMIZ project alongside the Members of the Cabinet who are pushing for its realization.

The advertorials, especially that of Sullivan’s, lambasted the PMIZ concept for its being unworkable, lacking in logic and damaging to the environment around the lagoon of Madang, and that it would not at all benefit the local people but only foreign investors who would be … who else? … but Asians.

However, when the PMIZ Board of Directors tried to buy a one-page advertorial to refute such allegations, Post-Courier flatly rejected it, saying it was a “business decision”.

The mere fact that it is now the PNG Government requesting publication of its advertorial so its side could also be heard by stakeholders in the local tuna industry and the entire nation, and to allay fears of the locals about the alleged harm PMIZ would create, the rejection stinks and is now viewed as being the pinnacle of this paper’s arrogance.

The immediate question comes up? Where is fairness on the part of Post-Courier?

Then the second: Is Sullivan hiding the bigger picture on the PMIZ issue by only telling the locals that they would lose their daily catch to the processing zone canneries once they begin operations and that their beautiful Madang lagoon would be tarnished forever?

Did she not tell the people of Madang that everyday, thousands of tons of tuna are being caught in PNG waters by fishing boats owned by giant overseas canneries while local fishermen could only managed to land a piece or two in every outing?

That if this massive catch by foreign tuna catchers is diverted into the PMIZ tuna plants when they begin operations, those overseas canneries, particularly in rich countries, would be deprived of rich tuna supplies, thus forcing them to close-shop and throw thousands of cannery workers out of work?

Is this why Sullivan and Post-Courier are trying to prevent the coming of the seven-tuna cannery processing zone and deprive Papua New Guineans of some 30,000 jobs and the government million dollars in tax revenues? Are they working with some groups overseas? Is there a big, well-funded foreign lobby going on against PMIZ? Post-Courier may know something about this.

And Sullivan should be deported for economic sabotage. What is the NIO (National Intelligence Office) doing, Sir Prime Minister? For all you know, Sir, your pet project is under threat from her!

MANY, MANY YEARS ago, Papua New Guineans tried to grow rice with help from Filipino experts. But Post-Courier flexed its media muscles to discourage such attempt, by running stories – Australian-written, of course -- telling the nation that rice will not grow in the country.

Sometime ago, Madam Ho-Vicario facilitated the coming of a group of Filipino rice experts to help farmers in the province start a rice farming project.

Immediately after that, she received a call from a white executive at Trukai Rice – an Australian of course --  bullied her on the phone and told her to drop the idea because “rice will not grow in PNG”.

Knowing that she has to protect a bilateral relations agreement between PNG and the Philippines by all means within her authority, the Ambassador told him to “go to hell”.

Now, rice is growing in many areas of the country, thanks to the technology provided by Asian rice experts, including Filipinos.

This time, Post-Courier is telling Papua New Guineans that the PMIZ is bad for them.

Very soon, PNG will be accepted as the new member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian) countries. Which means this will make PNG an Asian nation and make Papua New Guineans Asian people.

So, what now Post-Courier? Once this happens, Papua New Guineans should ask this newspaper to pack up and disappear for being a menace to their welfare.

PROMINENT journalists and media persons in the country and Pacfic learnt of the series of events that transpired last week through my weekly column “Letters from Port Moresby” posted on Thursday, December 12, at, a website based in the Philippines.

In emails sent to me, they reacted with indignation and disgust in the manner Post-Courier handled the Filipino illegal aliens report, and were one in saying that such “rubbish” should have never been allowed to see the light of day.

Prominent media man Justin H Kili, MBE, OL, was first to drop the bomb: All I can say, Freddie, is that yet again, the Post-Courier has published another irresponsible and completely fabricated story … what a shame! I feel for the Filipinos who have been mistreated through the Post-Courier report.”

Oseah Philemon, OBE, and The National’s Momase Regional Editor, reacted indignantly: “No editor in his right frame of mind would stand by any story if he knows – after being told the facts – that the story he published is wrong, incorrect in detail and ought to be retracted.

“It is responsible and unprofessional of any editor to stand by a story when he knows his newspaper got it wrong … worse of all if the story was fabricated by the reporter.

“That reporter (Pearson Kolo) ought to be sacked forthwith. No excuses. I am rather appalled that the Post-Courier can still hold its head high after committing the worst sin in journalism.”

Mr Philemon was Post-Courier’s former editor in chief.

Alfred Sasako, a Solomon Islands journalist who worked with Post-Courier during the 80s, was fuming: It’s the sort of tabloid rubbish that should have been left to Western newspapers.

“But knowing that the Post-Courier is owned by none other than a westerner, it’s hardly surprising that that sort of story should be allowed to run. It’s what riots are made of.”

Veteran journalist Susuve Laumaea has a more scathing comment: “Freddy, this is typical yellow journalism – concocted from the wildest imagination of the reporter concerned – a story that should never have seen the light of day.

“Why didn’t the sub-editor ring the Philippine embassy to get Madam Ambassador’s name correctly, ascertained whether she appeared at the inquiry and in the process also verify the story.

“… nothing so dramatic as putting the lives of a whole race of people on the line or writing them off as illegal aliens without proof. 

“When it concerns a sensitive issue such as the groundswell of anti-Asian sentiment being stirred up by the people who think they have been badly done by or that their opportunities have been unfairly seized by Asians, editors should pause and weigh the wisdom, public responsibility and social correctness of giving editorial prominence to such a story that could lead to social chaos – even blood bath, vandalism.

“A great number of Filipinos in PNG have been here since the 1970s and a majority of them are permanent residents and naturalised citizens.

“I am saddened by those who “piss” best practice journalism to the wind and can not own up to say a paper erred recklessly in publishing a blatant lie that has the potential to cause considerable grief, anxiety and terror to a group of innocent foreign guests in PNG.

“The editor in chief of Post-Courier is on record as saying … that he and the paper stood by their reporter’s story irrespective of direct response from Filipino Ambassador and the inquiry chairman (MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham) categorically denying Madam Ambassador’s appearance before the PNG parliamentary inquiry.

“The Ambassador and the committee chairman also unequivocally brushed aside the contention that 16,000 Filipinos were in PNG illegally – that was an outright obnoxious allegation but then, Post-Courier relied on another MP’s version of the story.

“In the face of authoritative rejection of the fabricated news story from direct sources concerned, the Post-Courier’s stance is deplorable.

“Like you, I was horrified at the potential damage that story would unleash.

Commenting on MP Kikala, Mr Laumaea said: Kikala should be exposed for the liar that he is. He was being more than cheeky.

“In fact, he should take the initiative to categorically and unequivocally retract any responsibility in initiating and peddling a potentially inflammatory hate campaign against Filipinos in PNG.

“With Post-Courier’s editor’s response, it makes me wonder whether this is the same P-C I grew up at. Standards of ethics, best practice etc have indeed slipped badly between generations of journos that have passed through there, I venture to suggest.”

“Would you stand by a deliberate and blatant lie?” Mr Laumaea  asked in rhetorical manner, concluding his tirade at Post-Courier.

“Shocking PC story about Pinoy 'aliens',” says David Robie, journalism associate professor and director of the Pacific Media Centre based in Auckland New Zealand.

Some feedback on FaceBook:

Simon Merton: “Brata, although I personally hold a strong dislike for the owners of The National, one has to admit that these days, It is the better paper.

”The Post-Courier has turned into nothing but a gossip fueled tabloid akin to the US National Enquirer. The standards are no longer there, there is no more ethical reporting. It’s now just a big Australian corporately-funded propaganda machine.”

Darren Moore: “A disgusting display of bad journalism and even worse editing, regardless of the nationality of the owners of the newspaper ( I don't see how that has any bearing on anything, or why it should even get a mention) .

“They should indeed be sued as well as being made to publish some form of retraction and apology.”

Pacific-based journalist Lisa Williams-Lahari was herself concerned: I feel an urgent statement needs to go out from as many of us as possible. It’s a sad day for Pacific journalism, not just PNG media, when blatant lies are printed as fact, and then defended. Wow, I’m speechless!”

Ms Williams has urged the PNG Media Council to issue a statement which the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) could support.

She said that as the PFF co-chair has pointed out, “We will call on a return to ethics and standards and encourage a complaints process”.

WITH ALL the searing indignation from the Pacific’s respected journalists, the last nail to Post-Courier’s coffin of credibility has finally been hammered for good.

And before the stench of its death permeates the air, Asians in PNG should start boycotting this newspaper, lest they be contaminated.

Asian communities should tell their citizens owning stores and shops not to sell its copies in their establishments. Its business communities must now withdraw their dealings with Post-Courier – advertisements and all.

In the first place, why should they continue feeding a dog that bites their hands?

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  1. Anonymous10:36 PM

    Well not much do say but one think is tru that so many Peopel leave ilegal in Papua Newguinea .
    You should not point on the on side witch is tru ,.
    Many of Papuannewginis could find a Jop in there own Country ,would not the Companies bring there own Workers and many Ilegal workers to PNG
    1991-1998 at Madang PNG

  2. Anonymous7:09 PM

    Papuanewgini is a free demokrati ccountry and the Post courier schuol not blamed an closed for other Peopel ,yupela mas tink tink pastaim .No ken bakarimp place bilong yupela na goodpela sindaun bilong all Papuanewginis stopim the Postcourier is a ackt of unstabel region .Luk luk Mekim na save Postcourier mas be open for everyone .

  3. Anonymous3:24 PM

    SHirley Vicario should be recalled by the President as Ambassador to PNG since she is not fit for the position, since she is only using it to enrich herself and her family

  4. Anonymous1:58 AM

    The 3rd commenter must be ignorant of what duties the Ambassadors uphold and do. Please do not judge so quickly. Instead, why don't we educate ourselves on what is the real issue in this event.