Call for new media view of neighbours
Sunday, August 2, 2009, 4:08 pm
A skull is the only remnant of an abducted three-year-old girl. Prisoners in a gaol are going hungry due to a dispute between food suppliers. Three people are dead and many hospitalised after post-game clashes between Blues and Maroons supporters on the second State of Origin night.
These are some of the news headlines coming out of Papua New Guinea recently. Is it any wonder then that the country has such a bad reputation in Australia?
As someone who’s been involved in research into the Australian media coverage of Papua New Guinea, I am convinced that our media could do more to help us understand our northern neighbour. Papua New Guinea is significant to Australia for a variety of reasons, and many Australians do not realise or appreciate this fact.
Why is Papua New Guinea significant to Australia? Not just because it’s geographically close to us. There are political, social and cultural reasons too. Australia administered the southern part of the country from the late nineteenth century, and then the whole of the country between the two world wars. During World War Two, Australians fought not only on the muddy, steep Kokoda Track, but also in the air and the seas, as well as other parts of the land. After that war, Australia administered Papua New Guinea until it gained independence in 1975. Since then, strong ties have continued, with Australia remaining Papua New Guinea’s largest aid donor. Australian development projects are prominent in the country and include vital road links for isolated villagers, libraries for Universities and curriculum resources for schools. Rotary clubs in Australia send containers full of useful goods like medicines and school desks, and a range of charitable organisations, such as the Fred Hollows Foundation and Save the Children, work in the country.
For Papua New Guineans, Australia is a very important place. For the average Australian, though, the country is barely on the radar. I believe this is largely due to the lack of media coverage that Papua New Guinea receives in Australia. With the notable exception of the ABC, which has a journalist based there permanently, there are very few stories in the Australian media about Papua New Guinea. We don’t hear about the ground-breaking research being done into malaria control, we don’t hear about the excitement rural people feel as mobile phone reception reaches their villages, we don’t hear about the beautiful locations where we could take enjoyable, tropical holidays.
If the Papua New Guinean government established a news service, this would greatly enhance the likelihood of news stories about the country reaching a wider audience. Most countries have a central news agency that runs the bulk of news on the national daily agenda, which media organisations worldwide can have access to.
Perhaps setting up such a service would be an aid project worth considering? In the meantime, the Australian media could do more to share with us the diversity and appeal of the mysterious country to our north.
Amanda H A Watson
(Top picture: Checking the news from Australia and elsewhere, in Port Moresby)