‘That day I saw the power of media, and how it can be tragic’

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Report by David Robie. This article was first published on Café Pacific

University of Papua New Guinea’s Emily Matasororo … in the background, images of heavily armed police
shortly before they opened fire on peaceful students. Image:” Del Abcede/PMC


By DAVID ROBIE

SURPRISING that a conference involving some of the brightest minds in
journalism education from around the world should be ignored by New
Zealand’s local media.

Some 220 people from 43 countries were at the Fourth World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) conference in Auckland.

The range of diversity alone at the Auckland University of Technology hosted event was appealing, but it was the heady mix of
ideas and contributions that offered an inspiring backdrop.

Topics
included strategies for teaching journalism for mobile platforms – the
latest techniques; “de-westernising” journalism education in an era of
new media genres; transmedia storytelling; teaching hospitals;
twittering, facebooking and snapchat — digital media under the periscope;
new views on distance learning, and 21st century ethical issues in
journalism are just a representative sample of what was on offer.

Keynote speakers included Divina Frau-Meigs (Université Sorbonne
Nouvelle) with a riveting account on how “powerful journalism” makes “prime ministers jump”, the
Center of Public Integrity’s Peter Bale (a New Zealander) on the need to defend press
freedom, and Tongan newspaper publisher and broadcaster who turned
“inclusivity” on its head with an inspiring “include us” appeal from the Pacific,”where we live in the biggest continent on planet Earth”.

But for me, the most moving message of all came
not from those who spoke about
“reporting dangerously” (such as Simon
Cottle) or the very future of journalism, but from a young quietly
spoken Papua New Guinean woman who has “lived” through a freedom of speech
and the press struggle while facing live bullets.

Emily Matasororo, leader
of the Journalism Strand at the University of Papua New Guinea, was on
campus that fateful day last month (June 8) when heavily armed PNG
police in camouflage fatigues opened fire with tear gas and live
rounds on the peaceful students. She was actually in the crowd fired on.

Emily’s testimony
Matasororo gave her testimony at a WJEC16 panel on journalism education in the Pacific chaired by me, with the presence of the panel members being sponsored by the NZ Institute of Pacific Research.

Explaining how the two months of student unrest began across Papua New
Guinea’s six universities – but mostly centred on UPNG in the capital of
Port Moresby, and the University of Technology in the second city Lae –
she said it was an irony that protests were triggered on World Press
Freedom Day (May 3).

“The Journalism Strand was preparing to
celebrate freedom of the press that day. However, this did not eventuate
because the academic space was taken up by a student forum.

“This
was the beginning of an eight-week stand-off by the students who
demanded that the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, step down from office and
face police over allegations of fraud. However, the prime minister said:
‘I will not step down.’”

Matasororo said O’Neill had challenged the
issue of an arrest warrant against him, saying this case was now before
the courts. Under the Papua New Guinea Constitution, O’Neill could be
removed by a no-confidence vote, or on criminal charges. But the former option was shut down this week when O’Neill survived a no-confidence vote by 85 to 21 votes.

Among other issues that spurred the students into organising class
boycotts and protests was the O’Neill government’s actions in
dismantling the police fraud squad [National Fraud and Anti-Corruption
directorate] – the very office that would investigate the prime
minister. But, as Matasororo pointed out, the squad was later reinstated.

Another
O’Neill move was adjourning Parliament until November to stave off the
possibility of the no-confidence vote. (A Supreme Court ruling forced
the reconvening of Parliament and the vote).

Violating the Constitution
Students became
convinced that Prime Minister O’Neill was acting in violation of the
Constitution and they saw themselves as defending the rule of law on
behalf of all Papua New Guineans.

Earlier in the protests students at UPNG had set on fire 800 copies of the two national dailies being sold at
the Waigani campus front gates in frustration over what they perceived
to be the news media taking sides and promoting the O’Neill government’s
agenda.

“The burning was an indication that they disliked the papers’ coverage
of events leading up the [first] protest. Why should the Student
Representative Council go as far as preferring certain media outlets
over others?” Matasororo asked the forum which was syndicated globally on livestream.

The Post-Courier, The National and television station EM TV were banned
covering student activities on campus. The UPNG is a public and
government-run institution and is a public space open to everyone,
including the media. If students reacted that way, it brought up issues
of credibility and integrity of the freedom of the press in Papua New
Guinea.

“Which brings to light the question of ethics.”

Matasororo quoted from a Loop PNG report bylined Carmella Gware, who
talked to a student leader in spite of the ban on local media:

The burning of newspapers at the University of
Papua New Guinea. Newspapers were also set on fire
at Unitech. Image: Asia Pacific Report

“We saw the newspapers and saw that the reports were very shallow and biased.

“They were not actual reports of what we students are portraying at the
university. That’s why, to show our frustration, we went out to the bus
stop and burnt those papers.

“What we displayed in the morning shows that we have no trust in the media,” the student leader stated (sic) said.

— Carmella Gware – Loop PNG

Investigation needed
“While I acknowledge and appreciate the tireless efforts of the media’s
coverage of the student protests,’ said Matasororo, “for me this is a very strong
statement that needs to be investigated.

“This needs to be done by
all stakeholders concerned to promote fair and just reporting and the
essence of good ethics and good journalism.

“The stakeholders must
include, but not be limited to he following: the publisher and
managements of the papers, the Media Council of PNG, Transparency
International, Ombudsman Commission and the journalism educators of
the UPNG and the Catholic-run Divine Word University.

“For the
publishers, credibility is questioned; for the Media Council it is a
threat against the profession; and for the educators – where are we
going wrong in teaching ethics, are we giving enough prominence that it
deserves?

“These are questions that need to be answered, in order to
promote a robust and conducive environment in which journalists should
operate in.”

On June 8, said Matasororo, the protests –until then
peaceful – “took an ugly turn”. Several students were wounded, some news
reports saying as many as 30. But there were no deaths.

“Social media was running hot with
images and comments uploaded in real time. Some of what was coming from
social media was emotional reporting.

“Information was distorted with some news stations reporting casualties.

“An Australian-based media outlet reported four deaths and isolated
reports on radio, television and social media that day created a new
level of fear, confusion and anxiety among residents.

“For me that day, I saw how powerful the media was, and when it is not applied correctly, it can be tragic.”

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