YOU WOULD HAVE TO BET that the decision by Papua New Guinea opposition leader Belden Namah not to deal with mainstream media and instead rely on social media to get out his message won’t last long. Quite simply, the numbers won't be there.
So what do we know about the audience reach of social media in PNG? While reliable statistics are hard to come by, a quick internet scan reveals that, compared with the tried and true mainstream media of press, radio and television, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are going to struggle to accumulate comparable audiences.
For example, the three most popular blogs about PNG (PNG Blogs, PNG Attitude and PNG Mine Watch in that order), top out at around around 40,000 unique visitors a month with PNG Exposed and Masalai a few steps behind them. In terms of typical daily usage, if PNG Attitude is a guide, this represents probably 2-3 thousand people (which can double if an issue is running hot).
At last count there were about 150,000 Facebook users in PNG’s seven million population. It’s a popular medium among better educated Papua New Guineans but has not developed as a reliable means of communication: indiscriminately carrying fact, comment, rumour, gossip and misinformation, often sourced anonymously. There’s also no telling just how many of those 150,000 may be really tuned in to what you have to say.
Turning to micro-blogging, the most popular PNG Twitter accounts have around 1,500-1,800 followers. Twitter tends to very limited in its capacity to provide complex information although it can work well in collaboration with other social media.
What we learn from this brief review is that social media still doesn’t pack enough punch as a stand-alone form and is probably best used alongside traditional or mainstream media if it is to maximise its effect.
In Port Moresby this week Belden Namah told reporters he no longer trusted traditional media outlets to give him a fair hearing – and then went on to hold a briefing limited to social media.
"As of (Wednesday) onwards, if I have any issues I am going to hold my press conferences with social media," Mr Namah said.
"Because the newspapers won't run my stories, I'm going to print my own newspapers and distribute them on the street.
"And I want Peter O'Neill to come and stop me."
While this delighted social media aficionados and presumably local printing companies, it doesn’t look like much of a strategy for a man who still wants to be prime minister of PNG.