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Information for Empowerment and Development:

Why the Media is Failing the People of Papua New Guinea.

Paper presented at the World Media Freedom Day Conference,


Divine Word University, Madang, 30 April 2004.

Dr Dick Rooney

Introduction
The media in Papua New Guinea have failed as agencies of information and debate.

The media can facilitate greater access to people lacking a voice. But media output
needs to be of high quality, relevant and useful to the audience. It needs to allow the
expression of a full range of opinions and matters of public concern. Access to
information is the first requirement of engaged, participative democracy.

This paper explores media ownership in PNG and argues that the vast majority of the
population – the poor, the uneducated and the geographically isolated – have little or no
access to the media. In this regard the media are failing to provide support to the
democratic structures of the nation.

The paper identifies the present media market as dominated by foreign-owned


conglomerates. Using content analysis of the news content of the country‟s two national
daily newspapers and news bulletins on the only television station it identifies how
members of elite groups dominate the news agenda to the exclusion of all other groups.

The paper critiques the free market model and identifies its weaknesses and suggests
ways how tertiary educational institutions and community-based interventions might
provide presently disadvantaged populations with platforms for a diversity of voices and
opinions through openness to participation.

Background to PNG
PNG, an Australian protectorate until 1975, has an extremely fragmented society with
more than 800 distinct cultural groups, each with their own language. About 85 per cent
of PNG‟s population, estimated at 5 million, live in isolated scattered rural settlements,
dependent on subsistence agriculture for their survival and organised around groups of
extended families living in their own little villages. Although people do move between
different places, each community has developed its own specific hierarchies, myths,
rituals and languages. Because these lives unfolded within limited geographical areas,
people directly communicated with one another through words. Historically. PNG
cultures were predominantly oral and so a mass media was unnecessary.

In these oral cultures, the recording of events was hardly known. The experience of past
generations was passed on directly to young people through working alongside or
listening to their elders. Within these enclosed little worlds, politics was carried out at the
level of the tribe, village or town with societies controlled by hierarchies derived from the
extended family.

Ownership of PNG Media

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Foreign ownership dominates the media in PNG. Conglomerates own both the two daily
newspapers and the country‟s only television station.

The Press can trace its origins to 1911 when the first newspaper the Papua Times and
Tropical Advertiser published for the benefit of the ex-patriate white community. Today,
the rationale for newspaper production is still dominated by the needs of ex-pats.

The Post-Courier is the oldest daily newspaper in PNG, established in 1969. Allied
Press, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch‟s News Corp, holds the majority shareholding.
The National, launched in 1993, is PNG‟s newest daily newspaper and is owned
Malaysian-based Rimbunan Hijau Group, a multinational conglomerate built on timber,
plantations, media and IT operations. (Robie, 1994). The National was launched by the
then Prime Minister Paias Wingti and attracted controversy for its foreign ownership and
the paper‟s association with the major commercial player in PNG‟s timber industry.
(Robie, 1995, p.28).

The two daily newspapers are based in the PNG capital, Port Moresby, and share a
metropolitan bias. Combined they have a circulation of less than 60,000, serving a
population of more than 5 million. These newspapers rarely circulate outside of urban
areas so the vast majority of Papua New Guineans are excluded from information. The
newspapers charge a fifty per cent and thirty per cent surcharge respectively on their
cover prices to purchasers outside of the capital to cover the cost of distribution, thereby
making the newspapers unattractive to people with low incomes. PNG media generally
privileges urban dwellers and those with the ability to consume, as generally speaking
rural populations are unprofitable markets.

In addition, 72 per cent of adults in PNG are illiterate and have no need for newspapers
(United Nations Development Program, 1999, p.110). It follows that newspaper readers
are likely to be leaders and opinion makers and this gives newspapers an influence in
the country that far outweighs their circulation penetrations.

There is one weekly newspaper, the Wantok, published in the Tok Pisin language (the
lingua franca of PNG) owned by Word Publishing through Media Holdings Ltd. Its
shareholders are the mainstream churches in PNG: Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran,
Anglican, and Uniting Church. It has an approximate circulation of 10,000.

The Eastern Star, established in 1991, is PNG‟s only provincial newspaper and has a
circulation estimated at 2,500. It is published fortnightly around Alota, Milne Bay.

Em-TV, owned by the Nine Network of Australia and the one television station in PNG,
generates only a small proportion of its coverage locally. Broadcasting started in 1987
(Foster, 1998, p.54) and is available in almost every urban centre in the country with
rural and remote areas serviced by more than 500 privately-owned satellite dishes, but
in 2004, 17 years after launch, the channel is still not available across the whole country.

Publicly funded radio in PNG is in the hands of a bureaucracy, the National Broadcasting
Commission, which as the only radio broadcasting authority in the country is the nation‟s
public service provider. (Nash, 1995, pp. 42-43). At its peak it was able to reach about
four million people in about 60 different languages as well as English, but it has been
undermined in recent years by financial and technical difficulties.

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Privately owned commercial radio has grown since the first station, Nau FM, was
launched in 1994, by Fiji-based Communications Fiji Ltd. Yumi FM joined it in 1997.
PNG FM, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Communications Fiji, now owns both
stations and there are now a growing number of commercial stations, playing mostly
music, based in and around PNG‟s urban centres.

The media in PNG is not regulated so, in theory, any person can start a company that is
aimed at dissemination of information (Mellan and Aloi, 2003, p.36). But in reality the
cost of launching a media outlet is a barrier to entry and there is little advertising
available in the country to support media ventures. (Pamba, 2004, p.15)

Of course, advertisers are not interested in audiences or readers as such. Rather, they
are interested in the ability of those people to purchase goods or services. The
predominant influence on spending is income: the rich buy more of most things than the
poor, so advertisers are willing to pay higher rates for readers with big spending power.

Those media which can attract an audience or readership which is fairly small, but
extremely attractive to those who wish to sell to them, can set high advertising rates
relative to their circulations.

Introduction to the research


The purpose of the research was to examine the content of news stories and in
particular the sources of information used and what this told us about the relationship
between journalism, the audience, and democracy in the context of whether everyone
has equal access to the news media.

The research was conducted in the context of the debate around relations between the
media and the exercise of political and ideological power especially, but not exclusively,
by central social institutions that seek to define and manage the flow of information in
contested fields of discourse.

Stuart Hall et al in their thesis on „primary definers‟ argue that people in powerful and
privileged positions are able to over-access the media, because journalists nervous of
accusations of bias attempt to find ways of injecting impartiality, balance and objectivity
into their reports.

They do this by a heavy reliance on accredited representatives of the people and


organised interest groups and „experts‟ who are considered to be disinterested pursuers
of knowledge and therefore impartial in the debate in question. (Hall et al, 1978, pp. 58-
59).

In this thesis, the media become primary definers of the news because the media tend to
reproduce faithfully what they say and thus reproduce symbolically the existing structure
of power in society's institutional order. It is likely that those in powerful positions in
society who offer opinions about controversial topics will have their definitions accepted.
Such spokesmen are understood to have access to more accurate or more specialised
information on particular topics than the majority of the population.

This, Hall et al argue, permits the primary definers to set the agenda and those with
arguments against a primary interpretation have to insert themselves into its definition of
what is at issue. Once established this definition is difficult to alter fundamentally.

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Hall's analysis is not without its critics. Philip Schlesinger and Howard Tumbler accept
that there are powerful sources that can sometimes organise news agendas to their own
advantage, but the emphasis is on the word „sometimes‟. (Schlesinger and Tumbler,
1994, pp. 17-21). Journalists can choose to accept the sources, but they can also decide
to find alternative sources. But, as Herbert J. Gans has observed, journalists are
restrained by deadlines and often feel obliged to rely on sources that are able to fit in
with the logistical requirements of busy news organizations. (Gans, 1979, p. 121).

Although it is true that official sources do not have to be believed or taken seriously by
journalists, the research intended to discover whether PNG journalists were doing just
that. The journalists may not necessarily be biased towards the government or other
elites, but one suspects their bureaucratic organisation and cultural assumptions make
them conduits of that presentation. As Brian McNair points out, journalists tend to
reproduce preferred accounts and interpretations of social reality by internalizing the
dominant value structure of their society. (McNair, 1996, p. 48).

Content Analysis: Em-TV


The research investigates PNG‟s only television station Em-TV which broadcasts one
news programme per day called Em-TV National News which runs for 30 minutes (less
time taken for commercials) each night. It is originally broadcast at 6pm seven days per
week with a repeat each night, usually at 10.30pm or 11pm. The programme is typically
subdivided into three segments: news from PNG, overseas‟ news and sports. The
broadcasts also include stock market and currency prices from Australia, the US, Europe
and Japan. Although the news is read in English, many of the speakers who appeared
on news items speak in Tok Pisin or other vernacular languages.

The research investigated 15 editions of Em-TV National News from 15 – 29 February


2004 inclusive. The main news sources for each of the first six stories broadcast per
edition were counted.

Table 1.
Main source of news item Frequency Percentage of
(n = 90) total

Parliament or Government 43 47.7


Media Conferences 10 11.1
Emergency Services 10 11.1
Law Courts 2 2.2
Public Event 2 2.2
Foreign Stories 11 12.2
Others 12 13.3

Source: Author

Table 1 shows that newsgathering relies on official sources such as the government,
police and emergency services for their stories as well as organised events, press
statements, public conferences and conventions and events put on especially for the
media.

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By far the biggest single source of stories was Parliament and Government, even though
Parliament itself did not sit at any time during the research period. The next largest
source was media conferences accounting for 11.1 per cent of the total.

Government dominates the news agenda and there is little opportunity for anyone else
within PNG to communicate through the news media. In the case of Em-TV and the
newspapers, the value of the news depends mainly on the importance of the speaker,
not on what they have to say, and in that respect it is not unlike the media in many
developing countries (Williams, 1994, p.9). Sparks has observed that the people who run
the media are very remote from the lives of the masses and are not controlled in any
way by the masses. (Sparks, 2000, p.27)

For a more detailed understanding of the news bulletins two bulletins were picked at
random and the first six items of each scrutinized to identify more precisely the sources
used. The results are presented in Table 2

Table 2
Detailed examination of two bulletins: Tuesday 16 February 2004 and Wednesday
25 February 2004.

Tuesday 16 February 2004


Running Description of item Sources used Comments
Order

1 The Acting PNG Governor General, Bill Skate was the only The item was based on
Speaker of the House of Parliament source Skate‟s visit to the crash
and local MP (all one person), Bill site. The visit was on
Skate, calls on the government to look Skate‟s own initiative
into the circumstances of a road and appears to have
accident that killed 19 people. been made for publicity
purposes.

2 Up to 700 retrenched PNG Defence PNG Defence Minister Em-TV has been taking
Force personnel will get financial pay announcement at a a positive stance to
offs paid for by the Australian media conference. He regular stories about
Government. was the only source. Australia‟s involvement
in PNG‟s governmental
affairs.

3 National Capital District Commission Story based on an This is the second


(NCDC) has a new head that will act as announcement from appearance of Bill Skate
City Manager. The appointment comes Chair of NCDC at a in this bulletin. He
amid controversy over the alleged press conference. Bill regularly supplies news
misuse of funds at City Hall. Skate, the local MP, is to Em-TV.
also interviewed at the
same conference.

4 Riots in Sydney, Australia. NA This is a supplied news


package from Channel
Nine, Australia. All Em-
TV‟s foreign news during
the whole research
period was supplied
from this source.

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5 Dame Elisabeth Murdoch opens the NA Channel Nine report. Ms
garden of her house in Langwarm, Murdoch is described in
Victoria, Australia to raise funds for a the report as the
local (to her home) art gallery. matriarch of a media
family. It is not said that
she is the mother of
Rupert.

6 Central Province Government (PNG) Story based on an The first PNG story in
wants the national government to pay interview with the today‟s bulletin to
for the cost of having a local river Central Province originate outside of the
diverted to avoid repeat of recent Governor Alphonse Mori capital, Port Moresby.
floods. who is the only source.

Wednesday 25 February 2004.


Running Description of item Sources used Comments
Order

1 Australian Opposition leader Mark Story is based on official This report does not
Latham visits PNG to meet government government include interviews with
leaders announcement and any of the story‟s
footage of people getting participants. On previous
on and off planes. days Em-TV had
reported that Mr Latham
was going to visit.
Today‟s report added
very little to news
previously given.

2 Two policemen in Port Moresby (PNG Story is based on a The entire story was
capital) charged with armed robbery of police statement. read by the newsreader.
beer from a shop. The report also gave No interviews or visual
a round up of seven other robberies material was used in the
that took place in the capital at the report.
weekend.

3 Members of Fiji‟s legal fraternity are in Story is based on a In the report the
Port Moresby to learn about PNG‟s statement from PNG‟s newsreader makes the
Leadership Code, which is an anti- Chief Ombudsman, Ila point that PNG has
corruption initiative. Geno. many problems with
leadership corruption,
nonetheless other
countries (as well as Fiji)
look to us to find
solutions.

4 The Judicial and Legal Services Statement from JLSC is The entire story was
Commission (JLSC) has shortlisted four only source of read by the newsreader.
senior lawyers to become judges. Also information. No interviews or visual
four judges will be appointed from material was used in the
Australia. report.

5 A group of experts from Australian Source is a two day This is the first story in
National University (ANU) are studying workshop run by ANU. today‟s bulletin that has
a rare PNG Highlands tradition known not originated from the
as „chanting its legends‟. PNG capital, Port
Moresby. This ratio of
capital to non-capital is
typical.

6 Earthquake in Morocco. NA A report from Channel


Nine, Australia.

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Source: Author

The bulletins demonstrate that Em-TV excludes the vast majority of people in the
country from its bulletins and it rarely includes stories about ordinary people. The closest
the bulletins came was in the story about the aftermath of the road accident and even in
this case the story centred on an elite person‟s involvement (Item one, 16 February).
Generally, PNG media do not feature ordinary people unless they have been victims of
misfortune or have appeared in court.

The stories that were broadcast centred on Port Moresby. In the two bulletins featured
there were only two PNG stories that originated from outside the nation‟s capital. During
the research period 73 per cent of the stories originating within PNG came from the
capital Port Moresby and only 27 per cent from elsewhere in the nation. About 85 per
cent of PNG people live in rural area and they are not being represented by the news
media. In these circumstances it is impossible to know what kinds of stories originating
from outside Port Moresby are being missed and exactly how much rural people are at a
disadvantage in terms of having their voices heard. There are no official viewing figures
available, but it is a reasonable assumption to make that the viewers are generally urban
and educated elites.

Tetty, using the example of Africa, has argued that the reason why most television
programes and publications use the colonial language (in PNG‟s case, English), even
where local languages exist, is that they have to do so to survive economically. (Tetley,
2003, p.25). Private media rely on advertising for economic prosperity and elite groups
who tend to use the colonial language are the most attractive to advertisers.

Content analysis: National and Post Courier


This survey examined journalists and their sources of information (Rooney, 2003a). A
survey of ten issues of the National and Post-Courier was undertaken over two separate
weeks in August 2002 (Monday-Friday 12-16 August 2002 and Monday-Friday 26-30
August 2002). Both papers only published Mondays to Fridays and two full weeks‟ worth
of publications was examined. The survey was made of the lead news stories on each of
the main news pages (front, three and five).

During the research period the pagination of the National was between 32 and 64 pages.
Two editions reached 64 pages but both of these were on Fridays when the newspaper
included its Weekend magazine supplement. The National‟s 32 page editions included
12-page supplements carrying Em-TV and satellite television listings.

Pagination for the Post-Courier varied between 24 pages and 52 pages. The 52-page
editions were also on Fridays when the Post-Courier published its magazine
supplement, Weekend Extra. During the 10-day period the National published a total of
432 pages and the Post-Courier, 376.

Both newspapers placed their editorial in clearly defined compartments. Running from
the front of the newspaper, these typically were home (or national) news, regional
(Pacific) news, world news, business news and sport. There was other material
interspersed among these compartments on some days, for example news from specific
regions within PNG and supplements sponsored by advertisers or organisations.

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Home or national news accounted for six to eight pages per day in the National and
between five and nine pages in the Post-Courier. The home news agenda will be
discussed in more detail below.

Sports and business were important to both newspapers‟ editorial mix. Sports news in
the National ran from four to ten pages per day. The Post-Courier ran sport on three to
nine pages per day. Both titles ran an Australian racing form guide each day and each
had a racing guide supplement once a week. The sports pages were dominated by
overseas‟ news, but a PNG sports event or story was always the main story on the main
sports page (the back). Sports likely to interest expatriates were important to both titles,
with Australian rugby league dominant in this category. Both papers cast their sporting
nets wide and included English soccer and US sports. The National ran a weekly rugby
league lift out which gave more space to the game overseas (Australia and New
Zealand) than to within PNG. The Post-Courier included a two-page colour poster of an
Australian rugby league team in one of its editions.

The business section, which in the National ran from four to eight pages per day, was
bigger by far then the Post-Courier, which typically ran three pages per day. Both
newspapers ran a full page of Australian stock market prices each day. The National
included shipping and property supplements once a week. In both titles the business
editorial was heavily dominated by overseas‟ news, mostly Australian. In neither case
were advertising supplements counted in the research, although both titles managed to
secure advertising using this method. Typically, such supplements were local
supplements, which appeared to be run in conjunction with chambers of trade or similar
organisations representing the interest of business.

Overseas‟ news (defined as news from outside PNG) was sub-divided by the
newspapers into region (or Pacific) and world. The world section was always larger than
the regional by a ratio of two or three to one. Both newspapers seemed to define the
„region‟ as the Pacific and Australia. Regional and world categories combined accounted
for between three and six pages per day in the National and slightly less, two to five
pages, in the Post-Courier. Both newspapers seemed to rely on news agency material to
fill these pages (sometimes carrying identical stories, as was also the case in the
business sections), but the Post-Courier also seemed to use material from News Ltd.
Newspapers in Australia.

Out of the 30 stories counted, 25 in the National and 22 in the Post-Courier came
straight from „primary definers.‟ Stories in this category included statements from
Government ministers on why there was a need to cut public spending and reduce
salaries of government employees, a financial crisis in the copra growing industry and
the board meeting of a large petroleum company. My observation as a regular reader of
these newspapers is that these story types were entirely typical of the items that usually
made up the news agendas of the two newspapers.

Both newspapers shared the same agenda, but the Post-Courier was a little more likely
to give prominence to dramatic human interest stories. For example, it led one edition on
a story of a woman being hacked to death inside a bus in the capital, Port Moresby,
while the National chose to lead that day on the Australian Prime Minister‟s call for PNG
to continue with its financial reforms. (Gerawa, 2002, p.1. Senge-Kolma, 2002, p.1).

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The study examined the sources of news stories. This task was simple as most stories
surveyed had only one or two sources of information and were from public events such
as sittings of Parliament, conferences and conventions, and events constructed
specifically for the media. As Table 3 shows, by far the biggest single source of stories
for both newspapers was Parliament, accounting for 63 per cent of stories in the
National and 50 per cent in the Post-Courier. These stories were reports of proceedings
on the floor of Parliament, with the overwhelming amount of coverage dominated by
government members. The next largest source was press conferences and statements
accounting for 10 per cent of the National coverage and 20 per cent of the Post-Courier.
In the survey period these conferences and statements came from the Prime Minister‟s
Office or other government officials.

Table 3: Sources of stories on prominent news pages of The National and Post-
Courier newspapers, August 12-16 2002 and August 26-30 2002.
National Post-Courier
n =30 n = 30
Parliament / Government 19 15
Press Conference/ statement 3 6
Court case 3 1
Speech 3 1
Crime 0 4
Others 2 3

(Rooney, 2003a, p.125)

A survey was also undertaken to identify the number of sources that journalists use in
their stories. Table 4 shows that the majority of stories in both the National and the Post-
Courier came from a single source: 57 per cent in the National and 73 per cent in the
Post-Courier. The percentage of stories relying on two or fewer sources was 93 per cent
in both newspapers.

Table 4 Number of sources quoted in stories on prominent news pages, August


12-16 2002 and August 26-30 2002.

National Post-Courier
n =30 n = 30
One source 17 22
Two sources 11 6
Three sources 2 2

(Rooney, 2003a, p.125).

The table needs some explanation. Although in some cases more than one source is
quoted this does not necessarily mean that high levels of journalistic endeavour are
used. Journalists tend only to quote more than one source when these sources are
readily provided for them. The stories in which three sources were quotes were court
cases and news conferences.

In the cases where two sources were quoted the journalist has not sought to collect an
alternative view to the main speaker, instead two sources supporting the same argument
are used, for example from stories originating from sittings of Parliament.

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The reluctance to find alternative voices, even within the mainstream political parties
means that readers are given a one sided view on matters of controversy. During the
survey period the recently-elected PNG government handed down its first budget. Both
the National and Post Courier had prominent stories the day of the budget, previewing
what was likely to be said and the day after giving details of the main speech in
Parliament. The reporting was uncritical of the government. The day of the budget the
National and the Post Courier produced similar stories supportive of the government.
They were based on a press preview of the contents of the budget. The National lead its
paper with this paragraph:

„The Government will change the course of Papua New Guinea through an export-driven
economic recovery strategy, according to the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.‟
(Taimbari, C. 2002a, p.1).

The National quoted the prime minister as promising to stabilise and unite the country to
improve living standards. The prime minister was the only person quoted in the story.

The Post Courier had a similar story highlighting an export-driven „recovery and
development plan‟ based on the same press conference given by the prime minister.
(Niesi, 2002a, p.1).

On the day after the budget was handed down the Post Courier led its front page with
this opening paragraph:

„The Government yesterday moved to clean up the financial mess of the 2002 Budget by
cutting MPs allowances, Government departments and agency allocations.‟ (Niesi,
2002b, p.1). The report used only one source, the finance minister Bart Philemon.

The National also uncritically reproduced the finance minister‟s assertion that the
country‟s economic ills were due entirely to the previous government‟s mismanagement
of the economy. It quoted Philemon to the effect that the previous government‟s last
budget was

„a political budget and as such sound economic management was crushed under the
weight of political expediency at the expense of the future wellbeing of Papua New
Guinea.‟ (Taimbari, 2002b, p.1).

Nowhere in either story was the past prime minister, now leader of the Opposition, given
the chance to react to the assertions

A further issue involves the simplicity of the political analysis offered by the government.
The finance minister and the newspapers make no effort to explain the complex nature
of the PNG economy which has a public debt to GDP ratio over 70% with interest costs
absorbing more than half the development budget. There have been persistent budget
deficits. (Windybank and Manning, 2003, pp.4-5).

Discussion
The PNG constitution provides for free speech, including freedom of the media, and the
government generally respects these freedoms in practice. Press laws in PNG tend to
be based on the English model and although there is a guarantee of „freedom of speech‟

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there are laws suppressing defamation and indecency and maintaining secrecy.
(Narokobi, 1999, p.154).

A cynic might say that the government could afford to have a free press since journalists
show no inclination to call politicians to account. Newsgathering in PNG tends to be
passive and the media rely on official sources such as the government, police and
emergency services for their stories. The value of the news depends mainly on the
importance of the speaker, not on what they have to say, and in that respect it is not
unlike the media in many developing countries. (Williams, 1994, p.9).

The research supports the view that journalists over rely on powerful elites as sources
and that journalists do not pro-actively find alternative sources to provide balance to
stories. Reporters receive information from a single source and re-present it
unquestioningly in reports. It may be an over simplification to say that journalists have to
do this in order to fit in with the logistical requirements of a busy news organisation.
Surely, one feels, within the confines of the political establishment in PNG which is
based within a single district of the nation‟s capital, journalists are able to get opposing
views, especially in matters that are controversial.

Journalists in PNG tend not to give background information to the stories, even those
running from day to day. One of the traits of PNG journalism is its unwillingness to
produce stories that contain a balance of views within them. Instead, journalists opt for
revisiting stories over a period of time, introducing new elements and different views in
each new episode. In this way committed viewers might be able to piece together the
disparate elements of the story into a comprehensible whole. But each new episode
tends to include only one source, thus there is no balance of views or attempt at
interrogation of the powerful. This demonstrates a lack of capacity among PNG
journalists to perform one of their vital roles within a democracy which is to examine
what government is and is not doing and to provide the public with information,
comment, analysis, criticism and alternative views. (Roth, 2001, p.10).

In this respect journalists have trouble overcoming the traditional norms of their
societies: PNG people tend to have uncritical acceptance of traditional knowledge and
procedures, with deference given to elders and those in positions of authority, which is
often at odds with the values of modern societies. Critical thinking and problem solving
are not generally taught in schools and the indigenous languages, including Tok Pisin,
do not include vocabulary that facilitates questioning and critical thinking. (McLaughlin,
1996, McLaughlin, 1997).

Journalists in PNG seem to have no institutional memory and seem unable to draw on
information from their own archives to put stories into context. For example, in 2002 Bill
Skate was elected as Speaker of the National Parliament but no media profiled him and
reminded readers that he had been Prime Minister for two years until 1999 and had
resigned in controversial circumstances.

News stories are presented at face value. Reporters tend not to ask questions that
require people in positions of power to justify their statements or actions.

Media and the free market

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There is a wide geopolitical consensus that political systems should exist to provide
opportunities for all the people to influence government and practice (DFID 2001) and
that the media reinforce or foster this kind of democracy. (Price and Krug, 2002, p.3).

Ojo (2003) has observed that mass media perform five specific functions: reporting the
news, interpreting the news, influencing citizens‟ opinions, setting the agenda for
government action, and socializing citizens about politics encouraging a political culture
to evolve. (Ojo, 2003, p.828).

To engage effectively there is an assumption that access to information is the first


requirement for an engaged, participative democracy. (Roth, 2001, p.13). An active
citizenry will help prevent governmental excesses and breed trust in the democratic
system, thereby enabling the private media to perform their functions. (Tetty, 2003, p.28)
and the media are the major mechanisms by which citizens are informed about the
world. (Sparks, 1991). There are specific public interest political goals which the media
can be used to serve, including the following: informing the public, public enlightenment,
social criticism and exposing government arbitrariness, national integration and political
education. But the more the media serve the narrow self interest of elite groups the less
able they are to serve the other group of public interests. (Ojo, 2003, pp.829-830).

In a free market, media are an agency of information and debate which facilitates the
functions of democracy. For Habermas (1989) the free market allows anyone to publish
an opinion and ensures all points of view are aired. But, as Curran summarises, there
are restrictions to this model which are the by-product of treating information as a
commodity: i) the high costs of entry into the market, ii) the free market restricts
participation in public debate. It generates an information rich media for elites and
information poor media for the general public. iii) it undermines rational debate by
generating information that is simplified, personified and decontextualised. (Curran,
2002, p.226). These restrictions are evident in the PNG market.

The influence of the consumer in PNG is severely limited. Both national newspapers
share a similar agenda and identify with the concerns of the elites. The one television
station follows a broadly similar agenda. The privately owned media in PNG do not
represent the public. Instead, they represent the configuration of power to which they are
linked. In PNG power is maintained through a system of patronage that binds together
different clans (wantoks) within the structure of a party political coalition in Parliament. A
power network extends to include the economic power exercised by shareholders and
managers. The media in PNG are themselves part of the economic power structure. The
National is owned by timber interests and the Post-Courier by a multinational
conglomerate.

The consensus in society tends to be defined by major players and to be echoed by the
media. In PNG the major players are political parties, business, external aid agencies
and representatives of global capitalism and civil society such as international banks, the
Asia Development Bank, AusAID, and the International Monetary Fund.

Ma makes the case that in order to secure the support of the state and advertisers the
media tend to protect and promote the interests of the big companies and sponsoring
government units. (Ma, 2000, p.22). As long as they are organized around capitalist
principles the media constitute obstacles to rather than conduits of democracy. The
advancement of ruling economic and political interests and the suppression of alternate

Information for empowerment second draft REVISED 12


views lie at the heart of media operations interested in profit-making rather than public
information. (Waisbard, 2000, pp.52-53).

Education and training


Part of the aim of today‟s World Media Freedom Day event is to begin to create a path
for the journalism industry in PNG. There seems to be a consensus emerging within
PNG that its journalists need better education and training, but it is less clear what
exactly is needed. (Skate, 1999, Narokobi, 1999, Philemon, 1999). Bill Skate, when
Prime Minister of PNG, lamented the failure of overseas‟ media companies to train
journalists in PNG. His reasoning owed more to his desire to get PNG a „good press‟
abroad PNG in order to attract investment and tourist dollars than for any need to inform
the ordinary people of PNG. (Skate, 1999, pp.44-45).

The leader of the opposition at the time disagreed. Bernard Narokobi wanted a media
that was „development oriented, giving focus to the people‟s initiatives in development,‟
with a dedication to science, technology, arts and culture. He also felt poor pay for
journalists contributed to the problem of low quality media, encouraging journalists to
accept government contracts or even bribes to supplement their income.
(Narokobi,1999, pp.154-158).

Training journalists in PNG is not easy. Many people who want to work in the media
have grown up with little exposure to the range and variety of newspapers, magazines,
radio and television programs that people elsewhere in the world would. Aspiring
students have little understanding of the media and often only slight knowledge of the
outside world or how PNG itself works. (Weber, 1999, pp. 10-12).

Journalists are not well served by the education institutions in PNG. The journalism
bachelor degree programme at University of Papua New Guinea effectively closed in
1999 leaving Divine Word University (DWU) as the only tertiary institution offering a
programme in journalism. The DWU programme has been predicated on the belief that
journalism is „essentially a craft skill i.e. vocational rather than academic‟. (Jefferson,
1998, p. 1) and therefore it places emphasis on writing, page layout and technical
broadcasting skills. A new review of the curriculum is underway at DWU and this may
change in the future.

Roth has identified how the media can facilitate greater access to people lacking a voice.
Media output needs to be of high quality, relevant and useful to the audience while
allowing the expression of a full range of opinions and matters of public concern. Access
to information is the first requirement of engaged, participative democracy. (Roth, 2001
pp.22-23).

To meet these obligations journalism students need craft skills, but the curriculum needs
to move away from the trade school approach to include critical evaluation (rather than
description), political science, philosophy, jurisprudence and PNG cultural issues.
(Rooney, 2003b, pp.85-88).

A student should be able to tackle a range of topics in these courses including the
procedures of legal institutions, constraints on freedom of expression, political, economic
and social theories and perspectives, political governance and professional ideologies.

Information for empowerment second draft REVISED 13


There need to be opportunities to examine specific social issues including HIV/AIDS,
gender inequality, drug and alcohol misuse and corruption. The challenge is to move
learning beyond the acquisition of knowledge to include intellectual skills, analysis,
synthesis, evaluation and problem solving. Historically these have been underdeveloped
areas in students‟ learning in Papua New Guinea, even at tertiary level.

Academics in developing countries have for a long time recognised the need for their
universities to raise their game in journalism and mass communications education. They
see a dearth of self-criticism and critical appreciation of the media. (Dalal, 1997, p. 102),
and a need for MPhil and Ph.D courses to attract the brightest students alongside a
requirement for faculty members to possess research-based qualifications. (Behera,
1994, p. 140). At university level journalism education should encompass liberal arts and
an interdisciplinary approach allowing students to develop the ability to analyse new
situations and come to reasonable conclusions for action. (Hukill, 1994, p.201.)

PNG needs educated journalists who can check government power. This education can
come through university but also from industry supported activities. The universities
need to extend their programmes to embrace media law, including specialist training for
media lawyers, not just journalists. Students should develop a capacity to provide
analysis, giving the public information about policies and events. Craft skills should
extend beyond day to day news coverage to include instruction in investigative
journalism.

This education should extend beyond the university into the workplace such as the
workshops organised by the PNG Media Council which give journalists access to
international trainers. We should be mindful, however, of Morgan‟s analysis of short
course industry training programmes worldwide. He found them generally bereft of new
ideas, bound by custom and replicating old knowledge. Academic programs of
communication and media education were by and large irrelevant and unhelpful to either
the maintenance or the improvement of professional practice as they were unduly
atheroetical. (Morgan, 1999, p.74).

Conclusion
The free market for media in PNG has failed as an agency of information and debate
which facilitates the functions of democracy. The press does not provide the best
platform for public dialogue. At present the combined circulations of the two daily papers
in PNG are less than 60,000 which means that newspapers are bought by about 1 in
600 people. Even allowing that each copy of a newspaper may be read by many more
people than the purchaser, newspaper are still failing to reach the mass of the people.
Newspapers are difficult to obtain outside of urban areas, they publish in the elite
language, English, and 72 per cent of adults are illiterate and are unable to read them
anyway.

Journalists must embrace the villages. Most of the important stories are taking place
outside of the urban areas, missed by journalists because they have a narrow definition
of interest. Journalism should reflect the concerns and activities of the society it serves,
what happened, why it happened and whether it is likely to happen again. It should
mirror society as a whole and not just that part of society which has gained political office
or come to the attention of the police. (McParland, n.d, p.5). About 85 per cent of PNG
people live in rural areas and because such a large proportion of the population live in
rural areas they are likely to be where trends and events that will have major impact on

Information for empowerment second draft REVISED 14


cities later on. Rural areas are where environmental changes are first felt. Social
changes such as land use, people having to abandon the rural areas for towns, creating
shanty towns settlements. (McParland, n.d, p.6)

There must be other ways to empower the people in rural areas by communicating other
than through the media and relying on top down mediation (Pamba, 2002, p.13).

Television has the advantage that it can reach, through satellite, remote areas of the
population, but news programmes are centred on the capital, Port Moresby, and rural
issues are generally ignored by PNG‟s only television station, Em-TV. Broadcasts are
almost exclusively in the English language so non-English language viewers are
excluded. Undoubtedly more people understand spoken English than can read it so in
that respect television has an advantage over the printed press, but poor people are
excluded from television as the costs of sets can be prohibitive.

Radio fits in most closely with PNG‟s oral traditions and has the greatest chance of
providing the presently disadvantaged population with a platform for the public dialogue
through which people can define who they are and what they want and how to get it.
(Fraser and Restrepro, 2002, p.70). Nash identifies the advantages of radio in PNG as
its ability to reach audiences quickly, especially in the country‟s remote rural areas. Sets
are cheap to own and there are fewer literacy problems. (Nash, 1995, p.36).

At present commercial radio in PNG has not adopted an informational role and there are
no signs that it intends to in the future. It depends on advertising revenue and therefore
faces the same economic imperatives as the press: to deliver audiences that are
attractive to advertisers. The country‟s publicly funded radio, NBC, which had the remit
to provide locally relevant programming has all but collapsed under the weight of under
funding and poor management.

Community radio provides the best way forward for PNG. Fraser and Restrepro-Esrada
(2002) define „community radio‟ as a „non-profit service that is owned and managed by a
particular community‟. (Fraser and Restrepro-Esrada, 2002, p.70). The operations of
such radio stations rely on the community and the community‟s own resources and are
comparatively cheap to set up and to operate. Its programmes are based on audience
access and participation and reflect the special interest and needs of the community as
they deal with local issues in local languages and cultural context. (Fraser and
Restrepro-Esrada, 2002, p.70).

Community radio can improve on the present media landscape in PNG by creating a
diversity of voices and opinions through its openness to participation from all sectors. It
can provide a platform for the interactive discussion about matters and decisions of
importance to the community. As Fraser and Restrepro-Esrada put it, „the core of
democratic process is in the ability of people to hear and to make themselves heard.‟
Community radio succeeds when it grows out of the community‟s sense of internal
cohesion and consciousness. (Fraser and Restrepro-Esrada, 2002, pp.70-71).

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