Free, informed speech crucial

Editorial

PAPUA New Guineans need to develop the culture to debate topics and issues as well as pass reasoned and informed comments on news and happenings that affect them.
The idea of free speech and the right to express one’s opinions is crucial to our democracy.
Thankfully we are allowed to express our thoughts via several mediums, whether it be print, television, radio, online or social media. But there are limits that many in the mainstream media will not cross.
Social media, however, does not have that filter nor does it have a heavy regulatory input by its administrators or users.
Issues that crop up or are the flavour of the month can attract hundreds of commenters leaving their thoughts and opinions on issues for hundreds if not thousands more to read and digest. Many of these people tend to say things they would never dare do in person or in public. That is what social media provides for the voiceless masses – a platform of anonymity and exposure.
A recent posting on Facebook of a story by The National on Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato’s condemnation of North Korea at a regional meeting in the Philippines attracted some strong online criticism.
Posters expressed disappointment with the minister’s words, saying he had no right to say what he said.
While those posters had the right to speak their mind, much of what they said was personal attack and name-calling aimed at a duly elected leader who was only voicing his government’s official stand on the issue of North Korea.
Other government MPs and parliamentarians have been the target of such attacks, triggered simply by the posting of stories, photographs or other information alleging some kind of misconduct or alluding to improper behaviour.
According to a ranking by Freedom House in the Country Watch database that combines the political freedoms and civil liberties of countries to measure their levels of freedom and civil liberties, Papua New Guinea was given a score of four for political rights and a three for civil liberties.
With this scale, number one represents the freest countries and number seven represents the least free countries. Papua New Guinea, like so many countries, falls in the middle and is considered “partly free.”
Rankings from the 2013 International Freedom of Expression Exchange by Reporters Without Borders ranked the county 41st in its annual press freedom index, dropping it six places from the 2011-2012 index.
Free speech and the right to articulate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship or societal sanction is the cornerstone of any free society.
Freedoms of speech, the press and information are guaranteed under Section 46 of the Constitution.
A section on basic human rights in the Constitution states that all people are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual whatever their race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex.
The individual’s rights include the right to freedom, life and the protection of the law, freedom from inhuman treatment, forced labour, arbitrary search and entry, freedom of conscience, thought, religion, expression, assembly, association and employment, and the right to privacy.
The citizens of Papua New Guinea also have the right to vote and stand for public office, the right to freedom of information and of movement, protection from unjust deprivation of property and equality before the law.
But people do invariably stretch the limits of their free-speech rights and encroach on defamatory and inflammatory statements, utterances and comments.
It is only human nature that we sometimes tend to think first before we speak, but once the words leave our possession they cannot be taken back, unless under the threat of legal action or just plain old good manners and proper sensibilities.

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