Posts Tagged ‘Social media’

FRIDAY May 4th is Media Freedom Day in Papua New Guinea and Divine Word University in Madang is all set for the day.

But why is media freedom so important?

Throughout history individuals and groups of people have been struggling to keep or take back their freedoms. Many of these freedoms were lost under oppression by an economic system that cares less about freedom and humanity.

Media freedom is about protecting the the rights of media to tell the truth about this economic system that is hurting the masses across the world. It is the gatekeeper of all other freedoms.

UNESCO’s Adviser for Communication and Information Programme in Asia, Susanne Ornager, says from Bangkok: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right stated by UNESCO and a right which all people in the world should treasure.” Yet every year journalists are being attacked, harassed, forced to shut up, denied publication of their reports or even murdered as they strive to tell of the injustices around the world. Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island journalists have also come face to face with the gun.

But the need to know is there and some people have to do the job of finding out and telling without fear or favour.

For every year since 1999, the Divine Word University’s Communication Arts Department has been observing Media Freedom Day. This year they’re witnessing how social media and the internet is making space for free speech and expression, and how a street vendor (Martyn Namorong, a keynote speaker) is using internet to help change the development debate in Papua New Guinea.

We hit rockbottom in the Pacific last week.

Or at least James Cameron did. The Avatar director’s sub touched down about 11km below the surface at the ocean’s deepest known point, south-west of Guam (reminding us of how foolish it is to be contemplating mining something we know so little about).

There was also a sense that the O’Neill Government hit rockbottom last week.

It was not only the Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 itself, but PM O’Neill’s deeply patronising public response that caused outrage among many Papua New Guineans.

Resentment building after weeks of political scandal after political scandal – most linked to the incorrigible Belden Namah – boiled over when O’Neill used his televised address to pretend the judiciary bill was in the public’s interest, not his own.

People saw through the bullshit and, inspired by the example of the UPNG students, took to Facebook to vent their disgust. Discussion boards like Sharp Talk remain filled with condemnation of the bill and the MPs who passed it. UPNG protest leader Nou Vada has become an overnight hero.

We have taken ownership of this debate. By doing so, ordinary Papua New Guineans have shown O’Neill that he cannot make laws in our name, without our consent.

This is the sort of noble outrage that has been absent in PNG for too long. We have been far too patient with self-serving governments, lazily hoping we’ll get a better deal at the next election.

That apathy comes home to roost in places like Josephstaal, a Middle Ramu community in inland Madang I visited last week.

Josephstaal is wonderfully self-sufficient, but it has been neglected by government after government. Its road is in ruins – I know, because I trekked through it, up to my knees in tais, over the weekend. I had to, because the airstrip is also not fit for planes to fly in and out of.

Transporting supplies to and from Josephstaal is an impossible task. It doesn’t have to be that way, though – the road from nearby village Guam is in great condition. The only difference is its kiap is presumably less corrupt.

Josephstaal is the sort of place the government should be supporting, not neglecting. Give the Josephstaals of PNG better roads and our cities would be flooded with food. ‘Food insecurity’ is a lie the government tells to get more Australian aid money.

But last week, Papua New Guineans began questioning those lies. And O’Neill is listening.

This is an election year, remember. Convince O’Neill that we’ll rausim over this bill, and he WILL repeal it.

If this is the sort of outcome possible when Papua New Guineans express their anger, I say PNG can’t get to the bottom fast enough.

By freelance journalist Andrew Pascoe

The cards seem firmly stacked against optimism on the streets of Papua New Guinea at the moment. It’s a bad sign in an election year, with little confidence evident that the outcome will correct our Pacific neighbour’s course from the particularly rocky path it’s taken in recent months.

But here — like elsewhere in the developing world where obscene power disparity is mobilising the masses — a wellspring of resistance is brewing.

In the past two years, a plethora of political blogs and Facebook chatter has sprung up, fulfilling a watchdog role the government and mainstream media have been deemed incapable of.

The targets of the new media vanguard are corruption, incompetence, and multinational corporations that get a free ride by the government at the expense of PNG’s downtrodden masses.

Potential for exploitation stands to reach new heights in coming years, with mammoth new projects in the pipeline including ExxonMobil’s $US15.7 billion LNG project in the Southern Highlands, and a growing Chinese interest being courted.

However, a growing web buzz representing savvy, pissed off Papua New Guineans is showing promising signs of being able to hold dodgy corporates to account.

Daily dispatches on Papua New Guinea Minewatch and LNG Watch blogs, for instance, have exposed an alleged whitewash by the government and ExxonMobil over a landslide near its major LNG project last month that killed at least 25 people.

“I want to be a middle man between the government and ExxonMobil, so that the landowners’ grievances about the project cannot be overlooked,” LNG Watch’s Stanley Mamu said. “The landowners at Bougainville had no middle man, and it caused a war.”

Meanwhile, PNG Exposed’s campaign for justice over a ferry that sank in January, claiming 200 lives, contributed to the government ordering an independent investigation into the tragedy. The Act Now! site is taking online activism a step further, galvanising a previously suppressed citizen voice via email campaigns a la Avaaz and GetUp!

But the burgeoning movement’s most prominent force is a Port Moresby betel-nut street vendor.

Martyn Namarong’s politically charged, plain-talking blog gets up to 3000 hits a day, a not-insignificant figure in a country where only 60,000-70,000 people have Facebook accounts.

In 2011 Namarong Report also became a key source for news media both domestic and international, as its coverage of the January military “coup” by a retired colonel proved.

“I can say that some of us, well particularly myself, shaped the story when the mutiny happened,” Namarong told me in Madang. “I created the Twitter hashtag #pngcoup, and everybody called it a coup. And it wasn’t a coup. We framed it that way because we knew the vast majority of Papua New Guineans would not back it.” Indeed, the attempt fizzled out almost immediately.

The government is slowly coming to grips with the threat: it recently advertised for staff for a social media department, and earlier this month issued a threat that people spreading “misinformation” faced arrest. The anti-censorship backlash was mushrooming at the time of print.

Prime Minister chief-of-staff Ben Micah made the comments “following recent circulation of anti-government information via text messages on mobile phones, email messages and comments being posted on social network site, Facebook … [designed] to destabilise the government’s firm control of the country.”

Is this the beginning of a Melanesian Spring? Namarong thinks Papua New Guinea is not there yet.

“The thing is those ideas haven’t crystallised in people here,” he said. “But internet use is growing, Facebook’s going to grow exponentially, and that change is going to come quicker. I now think if there has to be change in this country, it’s probably going to come in the next five to 10 years.

“The people of Papua New Guinea now have the upper hand over all those people who have been cheating them because some of us are willing to, you know, dispel all the bullshit.”

*Andrew Pascoe is a freelance journalist from Western Australia. He is currently researching dimensions of civil society in Papua New Guinea.