THERE were 827 entries from 132 Papua New Guineans in this year’s Crocodile Prize national literary contest, topping last year’s effort significantly.
Given that the competition is largely web-based we can only assume this represents the tip of a very large creative iceberg. There must be thousands of talented writers out there without access to the internet.
Writing is very important. It is a key brick in the wall of society. Apart from its entertainment value it is the way society moves knowledge and information around. If you don’t have writers, nobody knows what is going on in the country and the wider world.
People might tell you they don’t read and can get all the information they need from electronic media – television, radio and the internet. What they don’t realise is that just about all of this information is compiled and written by writers before it is broadcast. Even the songs you hear were probably written down before being performed or recorded.
The other thing you have to realise is that the source of the information you consume, whether it comes via electronic media or newspapers and journals, has a bias or spin attached to it. Most information delivered this way is prejudicial. It is especially so when it comes from commercial sources.
In Papua New Guinea, but also in many other countries, including Australia, the vast majority of media information and knowledge is disseminated by commercial interests.
The stock in trade of the commercial media is sensationalism.
If something is sensationalised - even the most mundane and arcane event - people pay attention. Politicians especially are like terriers when it comes to self-interested beat-ups. If people are prompted to pay attention through this means it is much easier for them to sell their message, including commercial product.
Most of the commercial media in Papua New Guinea, as it is in Australia, has a distinctly conservative bias. This is because it is owned by big business. Middle of the road or left-leaning media has a hard time surviving in both places.
The biggest media company in Australia is owned by businessman Rupert Murdoch. He has built what began as a grubby afternoon newspaper in South Australia into a global mega-monopoly that has fingers in myriad media pies.
When Murdoch barks even prime ministers jump. His company owns Papua New Guinea’s Post Courier and, like his newspapers in Australia and the rest of the world, it toes the company line.
The other major newspaper in Papua New Guinea is owned by a controversial logging company which has been known to use it to disseminate its views and support its commercial interests. Church publications tend to be ultra-conservative on social issues. They know on which side their bread is buttered.
In Australia, Murdoch has some competition from a more liberal press. Fairfax Media produces the Melbourne Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Canberra Times and the Australian Financial Review. It also has interests in television.
Another smaller outfit owned by Melbourne publisher Morry Schwatz produces such liberal publications as The Saturday Paper and The Monthly. We also have offshoots of the overseas liberal press like The Guardian.
On television in Australia we have the ABC, just as Papua New Guinea has the NBC.
The ABC is fiercely independent, despite concerted attacks from the conservatives. The chief executive of the ABC recently pointed out that it is an Australian institution, not a State institution.
The NBC, on the other hand, seems to be in the thrall of the government. Both Papua New Guinea and Australia have significant problems with corruption but, while the ABC has maintained its independence and ethics, the NBC has been mired in mismanagement and corruption for some time.
Like the commercial media it seems to trot out government and commercial press releases verbatim with no critical comment.
So if you think you are getting a balanced view of the world through your media in Papua New Guinea think again. If you are still not convinced ask yourself why EMTV ditched Martyn Namorong.
In effect there are no rivals to the right-wing media or government propaganda in Papua New Guinea. Social media has made some inroads but only reaches those with access to the internet.
The vast majority of Papua New Guineans remain blithely uninformed about what is really going on in their country and, more importantly, have no access to informed, unbiased or alternative views.
This is where writers and books come into the picture.
In a place like Papua New Guinea books, journals and social media have the potential to redress the balance.
The government knows this but it has no interest in creating an informed citizenship because it creates too many problems.
Feeding people carefully leavened information with as much positive spin as possible is what it is about. If it gets the spin right it doesn’t have to be accountable. If that doesn’t work it just clams up until people lose interest and the problem goes away.
In this sense the writers who contribute to things like PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize are leading a counter-revolution. They are championing a just cause.
If you want to part of this great movement you must contribute. You must write for blogs like PNG Attitude and enter the Crocodile Prize competition each year. You must also help rally the troops. The more people who write, the better the outcome.