The Australian Department of Tourism Denial
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Moving backwards – the sadness of today's PNG

Today’s The Age has a must-read story for anyone with a serious interest in Papua New Guinea.

Dave Tacon, a Melbourne-based freelance writer, has penned an insightful and elegant feature on a country that, far from developing, has just been demoted to underdeveloped status by the United Nations.

Dave’s piece moves from the neglected bush to the dangerous towns covering a lot of important issues in its sweep. Thanks to John Fowkes for pointing it out to me. Here’s a taste:

Detective Andrew Mokoko, 35, walks the street outside the bank agency office in plain clothes, nonchalantly toting a pump-action shotgun. A local identity, he chats with passers-by and the betel nut vendors. Although he is officially on duty, he is earning a little extra as a security guard with a weapon from the police armoury.

This is explained to me by a former police officer. When I ask why Mokoko is out of uniform, the reply is: "Well the raskols often wear police uniforms."

In PNG, corruption is taken for granted. Still, Kerema is tame compared with the country's more populous regional centres, where a largely uneducated population flock in the hope of work. Unemployment is rife. Violent crime, driven by poverty and tribal allegiance, is out of control. In recent weeks there has been sustained rioting throughout the nation. The targets are mainly Asian-run businesses — convenient scapegoats for the disenfranchised.

Commenting on recent rioting in the nation's capital, Port Moresby, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare acknowledged the perception that his Immigration Department is so corrupt that "a six pack (of beer)" is accepted tender for a passport.

Papua New Guinea, a country with more than 760 distinctly different languages, was ill-prepared for the independence granted by Australia in 1975. To this day, the prevailing political system is based on wantok — the support of one's friends and family above all others. Superimposed into government, wantok is a system of pure cronyism and nepotism.

Fortunately for us, The Age has Dave Tacon’s full article online, and you can link to it here.

Source: As things fall apart by Dave Tacon, The Age, 4 July 2009


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Maryanne Tokome-Amu

I thank all those wonderful people who are with me in my struggle to see my home, my own, my people, of PNG.

Sometimes, I also wonder why I bother.

Keith Jackson (you are my friend) please send me an email.

For PNG we stand.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I know the joint is a mess. Every time I go back there the mess seems to have got bigger. Being an ex-patrol officer who thought we'd left the place in reasonable nick (although a tad too early)I find that incredibly frustrating and very sad.

I also think that negativity breeds negativity. The Australian public, or at least the minority that gives a stuff, expects the news to be inherently bad and, I suppose, journalists are just giving them what they want - the media has a knack of doing that. I don't dispute that Dave Tacon told it like it is; I'm not knocking journos.

He also included some positive stuff, if you think individuals like Dr Taone desperately battling an overwhelmingly corrupt regime is positive; I guess it's a matter of interpretation. I imagine the average Papua New Guinean also expects most news to be bad. It must be terribly depressing for them.

The media is a powerful thing; it brought the Berlin Wall down by demonstrating how attractive western democracy is compared to eastern communism. The bad stuff about PNG needs to be reported if the country is to change, no doubt about it. But you have to give the PNG people hope, and the way to do that is to also report the good stuff they are doing.

Dave Tacon mixed the two together; unfortunately under the laws of propaganda a positive and a negative make a negative. That's why I found his article curious. He did a good job and I hope he keeps at it. Pity the Sydney Morning Herald didn't run it too and thank goodness the tabloids and Channel 9 didn't get hold of it.

Richard E. Jones

AS a fellow working journo I think I'll go into bat for Dave Tacon, thanks Phil.
What on earth did you expect him to write ? Of course, the joint is a mess --- don't worry about the description of 'under-developed".
Try 'failed state'. I didn't find his report 'smacking of sensationalism'. Tacon went to some out-of-the-way spots and wrote what he saw.
I went and ferreted out my hard copy of Saturday's Melbourne Age and there was the article, in the Insight section (not the World part of the main newspaper) with accompanying pix.
Shotgun-toting copper Andrew Mokoko looks a tough customer, holding his weapon at the ready as a Toyota or Mitsubishi SUV-ute passes in the background. A bearded passenger is hanging out the left-hand side window, observing Mokoko and the photpgrapher.
The main pic shows Dr Magdalene Taone, stethoscope around neck and pen behind ear, playing with two toddlers as a concerned mother watches on.
I would suggest that reporting on the fact that Dr Taone is in place at the Kanabea Rural Hospital is pretty positive news.
And what about Dr Maryanne Amu's work in the rural centre of Wapenamanda? Call it a regional centre if you will, but it's still a bush outpost. Dr Amu has been using her own funds to get the Primary Health Care Centre up and running.
I am heartily sick and tired of bureaucrats, do-gooders and other assorted wannabes slagging off journalists because said journalists haven't penned what these people considered "acceptable" yarns.

Phil Fitzpatrick

This is a curious article. On the one hand it contains some interesting information but on the other it smacks of the sort of sensationalism best left to the tabloids. It made me wonder both about the dearth of coverage of PNG in the Australian media, the type of coverage and the fact that the average Australian doesn’t give a stuff about the place anyway – things we’ve all been complaining about for years. When you put these things together you have to wonder, does it really matter?

What we really mean when we complain about the lack of coverage is the lack of positive coverage. Positive coverage is useful and necessary for PNG’s progress; it has a tangible economic and social benefit. There was another article this weekend in the Australian about the LNG project but, bugger me, the author had to litter an otherwise good-news story with lumps of negativity – it’s almost a mandatory requirement for stories about PNG. I suspect that Dave Tacon knew that without the negative sensation, including the title, his story wouldn’t have otherwise been published. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff has to be aired and hammered until the pollies get the message, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not tiresome.

I’ve worked with Aborigines for years and they get the same treatment. The current debate is focused around the intervention in the Northern Territory. There are some good people out there, both black and white, with vast experience, using the media to try and tell the government that they’ve got it wrong again but the government isn’t listening. The same thing seems to apply to PNG – nobody useful, least of all the government, is listening. I’ve been beavering away trying to get growers and government in Queensland interested in guest workers from the Western Province. I think I’ve made a good case but, again, no one is listening - it begs the question, why bother?

I’m not going to give up on the guest worker scheme but I think I’ll stop complaining about the lack of media coverage of PNG in Australia. I think I’ll just stick with blogs like this one.

Bye the bye, I was poking around in some of the Kamea villages north of the Purari River a couple of years ago and they are doing fine thank you very much. The average Papuan New Guinean doesn’t ‘disdain’ the Kukukuku, they fear and admire them.

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