PNG's Facebook wars - Dr Merrell & her detractors
04 March 2013
DR SUSAN MERRELL, a prolific social media commentator and blogger, was the daughter of a grocer in Wales before she moved to Sydney, Australia.
After years of studying at the University of NSW and the University of Sydney she received four degrees and a doctorate, a PhD in political science from UNSW.
Dr Merrell recently said on Sharp Talk, Papua New Guinea's largest social media group, that she is a member of the prestigious Golden Key Club - membership of which is by invitation only and limited to the top 10% of Sydney University students.
Instead of praising and respecting her accomplishments, however, more than a few people criticised her.
You see, Dr Merrell has become, in her own words, "the white woman Papua New Guineans love to hate".
How did a highly educated woman come to be reviled, abused, ridiculed, scorned and heavily criticised by many Papua New Guineans even on her own Facebook page?
The political scientist and self-proclaimed polyglot became a freelance journalist and started publishing articles (the most notable being about former Australian politician Pauline Hanson) on popular Australian internet forums such as Unleashed.
She then redirected her interest to the political affairs of the Pacific and Papua New Guinea. Fate intervened, leading her to Australian citizen Julian Moti, the infamous former Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands, who became her first real cause.
Merrell subsequently wrote about former PNG prime minister Sir Michael Somare's role in the Moti Affair with the wry, dry wit of a writer who had become an overnight expert on PNG politics; although apparently she did not interview Somare to get his side of the story.
Sometime in 2011, Merrell entered the PNG social media scene on Facebook and started sending out ‘friend’ requests to members of PNG's educated elite - politicians, public servants, lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers and journalists. What better way to tap into information on PNG's political and current affairs and become an expert?
Two politicians who accepted her requests were Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah and Bulolo MP Sam Basil, who were leader and deputy leader of the Opposition at the time. Woe betide them, because they had no inkling of what this would mean.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as Susan Merrell is fond of repeating.
Dialogue via Facebook commenced. Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged. And the gossip, back-biting and intrigue began. Apparently Merrell, as she confided to Australian woman lawyer Tiffany Twivey during a meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Port Moresby, wanted a job as media advisor to the Opposition.
Twivey (also known as Tiffany Tee Hee on Facebook) further revealed that Merrell had said "she was going to get a job as like press officer for the Opposition - before she had even met them" but that "Belden told me yesterday he wasn't going to have anything to do with her".
Merrell failed to secure a job as Namah’s media advisor or press officer. Nor did she get support for her proposed package of "250 thousand dollars per annum" to work on the "Woman’s Bill" - the Equality Participation Bill proposing to reserve 22 seats for women in parliament.
"She never went to my office, she never visited my home, I have never met the woman", Namah said recently. “"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per annum - that's too much."
Soon after, Namah became the target of a defamatory blog post, Sex, Lies & Facebook, which appeared under three different fictional names.
Namah was no longer the hero and political saviour of PNG in Merrell's mind...and certainly not somebody she could patronise or make a protégé.
Whilst serving as deputy prime minister in the O'Neill Government during the political impasse, Namh became transformed by Merrell into a "monster" with "chilling eyes" and “a would-be Dictator” akin to Idi Amin and Hitler.
In April 2012, Merrell welcomed the Governor of National Capital District to Sharp Talk - "Mr Powes Parkop, I believe you are now a member of Sharp Talk, welcome. Now all you need to do is to remove your backing of the rogue MP Namah. Secure your place in history by helping to overthrow a potential dictator that will make Idi Amin look like a pussycat". The Governor ignored her.
No big deal anyway, because her cleverly contrived ploy to indirectly link herself to the Sex, Lies & Facebook story worked perfectly to get the anti-Namah internet campaign well underway.
This became evident when well-known PNG writer and blogger Malum Nalu publicly asked Merrell on Facebook if she had "an affair with Belden Namah". Speculation about her supposed "intimate relationship" with Namah has been rampant in the PNG social media for more than a year.
Foreign conspiracy theories also thrive. In fact I advised her - after seeing Nalu's question - to reveal the truth of her relationship with Namah. "Thanks but no, (it) would serve no purpose. That article had a specific purpose that I think has most likely been served", she replied.
It seems to me Merrell built her fan club on Facebook by grandstanding on the Namah name. People, including myself, sympathised with her and respected her relentlessness in expressing her opinion in the face of sometimes overwhelming opposition, outright condemnation and personal attack - especially after she claimed that a fictitious ‘Benjamin Zgia’ threatened to “put a bullet through her brain”.
At the height of last year’s political impasse, the PNG social media was divided into pro-O'Neill, pro-Namah, pro-Somare and pro-Constitutional supporters. It was a psychological battlefield in which Dr Merrell seemed to delight in provoking and taunting her opponents on the Namah side, especially Graham Robinson who was doing PR postings for Namah. “He thinks he is a master manipulator but he's met his match here,” she told me.
As long as Dr Merrell got the attention she sought, it became crystal clear she would not back off her constant negative commentary about Namah - despite the countless objections raised by outraged Papua New Guineans who told her to stop.
After all her motto is, “Hit the ball one more time. When all seems lost, give it one more try - it may be the strike that matters".
Dr Merrell has her PNG fan club on Facebook. But when we finally met, after liaising for months behind the scenes on Facebook, I realised the full extent of how cleverly she had contrived to set Namah up to become the bad guy and the fall guy.
Her negative portrayal still persists. Just in January there was a vulgar exchange between Dr Merrell and a lawyer which appeared on Facebook.
Shocked at the vulgar comment she made about the Opposition leader’s private parts and alleged sexual proclivity (too vulgar to repeat here), I told her she was "way out of line" and that the comment was vulgar, disrespectful and embarrassing.
Dr Merrell told me I had no right to tell her she was out of line:
“I can give you chapter and verse on all types of things that would severely damage and embarrass, Namah,” she responded. “Perhaps you should talk to him first before you provoke me. If you are aiming to curry favour with Namah by opposing me -you'll find that could dangerously backfire. You really are treacherous, aren't you?"
There was a time when Dr Merrell drew a lot of ‘likes’ and admiring comments for her sharp wit on Sharp Talk. She said that being on Sharp Talk "is like a drug". During one recent online drama, a commentator, who happens to be a lawyer, openly called her "condescending, mean and nasty" and said "if she has gained the respect of some Sharp Talk members then she needs to control her sharp tongue".
But her real moment of notoriety, glory and Facebook fame came recently when prime minister Peter O'Neill reportedly joked at a news conference in Port Moresby (about the Vanuatu incident in which a "mystery jet" allegedly carrying fugitives landed in Port Moresby) that the editor of the Post-Courier should perhaps ‘unfriend’ Susan Merrell on Facebook after she boldly called on the prime minister to resign over allegations he had met with the alleged fugitives and further attempted to rally Sharp Talk members to stage a public protest over the incident.
These uncalled for comments against Peter O’Neill and her attempt to instigate a protest march drew the ire of Susuve Laumaea, one of PNG’s most renowned journalists who has served PNG with merit as Government Printer, Provincial Secretary and Chief of Staff to prime ministers Somare, Namaliu and Skate.
"The people of PNG do not need journalistic mercenaries, unethical parachute journos shit-stirring them from far away to set them off on a destructive melee,” Laumaea said. “Get the facts right, if you don't know, find out, if you can't find out, shut up".
"I know that you concocted all the crappy story about Opposition leader Belden Namah,” he added.
To which Susan Merrell responded, “Susuve Laumaea, I'm a journalist, I ask questions. I don't get paid and I won't be silenced by the likes of you. It's clear to me that you have no sources because I am in receipt of all the facts of that story. Hard to reveal that which doesn't exist. Goodnight you're boring me".
Sharp Talk - a platform initially intended for constructive debate on matters of national interest where members are privy to the latest breaking news sometimes days before it hits the mainstream media - appears to have degenerated into a platform where, far too often, untruths and falsehood, rumours, speculation, insinuation and innuendo are disseminated and propagated against PNG and PNG political leaders.
PNG politics appears to have become a very dirty game, complete with ugly, uninformed speculation, gossip and outright slander influenced by foreign power brokers, clever manipulators and paid spin doctors with vested interests who think they can get away with saying anything about Papua New Guinea's mandated leaders.
The latest news from Sharp Talk is that Susuve Laumaea, fed up with all the unsubstantiated buai pekpek has offered to organise a public debate in which ‘Sharpies’ can raise their concerns directly to the prime minister.
Perhaps Sharp Talk has come of age. Even the prime minister is listening. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword but nobody has the power to wield it without facing the consequences. The truth always prevails, one way or another – eventually.
Its a great article, no need to complain!
Posted by: Joyce Bagi | 10 July 2013 at 01:34 PM
KJ - Just be carefull on how PNG Attitude threads here but the article brought some smiles to my face. As a fellow Sharpie, I do know the writer (SBR) and the subject-person (SM) here, and both are my Facebook friends...so I will take this with a 'pinch of salt'.
Posted by: Reginald Renagi | 30 April 2013 at 02:36 PM
Rozabelle, unless I'm mistaken discussions on fb don't have a referee.
PNG Attitude has a referee who is more than qualified to make an assessment of the articles posted, given his experience as a teacher in PNG and his expertise as a public relations specialist: Keith Jackson.
His tact and fairness can be demonstrated by how he posts a comment made eight days after an argument has dissipated.
Keith pays tribute to a higher objective, that we should be aware of the arguments, attitudes and actions of those involved in our blogosphere.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 14 March 2013 at 07:28 PM
Is it really appropriate to post this kind of article? If one has to confess something like this, we must carefully and put our words right.
We hear news about this social network, Facebook. Currently this thing is getting out of hand. People don't really understand how to use this network.
Rather, they abuse and do unnecessary things. I don't like the way people do such things to our leaders.
If others can share their grudges and opinion on newspaper, who are you that can just accuse or discriminate a important or in this case, a leader.
That is not a professional way of approching people. And too, that is very very bad for an educated person. It would be better if we mind our tongue and approach people.
Going into Facebook and doing such thing is not justice and unethical.
Posted by: Rozabelle Hota | 14 March 2013 at 06:54 PM
Thanks Sonja for revealing what was going on in PNG during the historical political impasse last year.
Posted by: Joe Wasia | 06 March 2013 at 06:29 AM
Keith, this article is very proper for us to
have the right Attitude.
'Anger the truth will out'. 'Better the devil you know'. 'Don' judge a book by it's cover', etc.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 05 March 2013 at 10:11 AM
I am not sure if PNG Attitude is the right place for this article, its better off in Sharp talk.
Posted by: Josie Konjib | 05 March 2013 at 08:45 AM
Keith, apropos to Lyn's comment and your reply, This is a quote from Australia's most famous investigative journalist who after the broadcasting of 'Moonlight State' a corruption expose that brought down the Queensland government, would be in court for 13 years defending himself against defamation suits that cost the ABC over a $1 million in legal fees. Masters lamented:
"The laws have turned our media into both coward and bully. Too frightened to go up the big end of town, the media turn on and mug the powerless"
I am sure you are aware of why I bring this up. While I'm not exactly powerless, you did have the chance to go after the 'big end of town', you declined.
However, I did notice that you edited some of the more egregious journalistic excesses of her article. I guess that's something.
Posted by: Susan Merrell | 05 March 2013 at 08:00 AM
Really Keith? I don't see the relevance of this article to this site. not promoting literature, not promoting environmental protection or social development, does nothing to enlighten about reasons current state or impove PNG and Australia relations and is not providing relevant history of PNG.
I agree with Nancy. This fire needs no oxygen from this site. Well I think this site is above such "wars".
I believe PNG Attitude is well qualified to make decisions about what to publish. Sonja Ranoi's article was well within our remit. Are you seriously advocating censorship, Lucy? - KJ
Posted by: Lucy N Timmer | 05 March 2013 at 02:57 AM
My very last words on this matter:
This piece of prose is a factually incorrect, self-indulgent, jealous rant of a self-styled expert with absolutely no authority and very limited knowledge - speaking on a subject that should be of little interest to anyone – Susan Merrell.
The article is a blight on the landscape and an insult to all the other bloggers who are tackling the real issues.
Posted by: Susan Merrell | 05 March 2013 at 12:10 AM
Good to see you corrected the mistakes you made in the first article, Sonja - both made in the first paragraph that I pointed out to on another blog site (although you'd supposedly blocked me so you shouldn't have been able to see my corrections) LOL. I was testing to see just how gullible (and sneaky) you really are. You've just reproduced what I've said without verification. You've taken my word for it, haven't you? That was stupid. First rule of journalism. check your sources - especially when you have ones that you are accusing of being a liar - but then you don't believe that as you've proved. Hoist be your own petard.
Posted by: Susan Merrell | 04 March 2013 at 11:42 PM
Onya, Sonja, thanks for the revelations.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 04 March 2013 at 08:53 AM
It's a good article, this. But I am not comfortable with the ending.
Posted by: Russell B Soaba | 04 March 2013 at 07:54 AM
Why are we fanning these flames?
Posted by: Nancy Sullivan | 04 March 2013 at 07:53 AM