An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IN the midst of the crowd at Divine Word University’s open day in 2013, as I sat at the Communication Arts public relations booth, a senior national public servant approached me with a question.
“Son, why is it that most of the prominent journalists in the country are disappearing from the mainstream media?” The look on her face already suggested an answer before my lips could move.
Unlike any other profession where one works until retirement age, the case is otherwise for journalists in Papua New Guinea.
Only passion and love for the profession keeps a few enduring until old age, in most cases just a handful. While journalism is an exciting field, the challenges are many for the warriors who fight only with pen and paper.
For example, the green pastures offered by public relations and other communications and marketing careers are very attractive to mainstream journalists.
Journalists are marketable in public relations because they tend to have a good network of people and a broad knowledge of issues.
As a journalism student, I was exposed to the challenge of the theory and practice of journalism and the role of the media in a democratic nation.
Although the media is often termed the fourth estate (after clergy, nobility and commoners), giving it some sense of importance in society, the challenges it faces are recurring.
The public would murmur if it was revealed how much a journalist is paid to keep Papua New Guinea informed every day.
There are two journalism schools in Papua New Guinea – at the University of Papua New Guinea and Divine Word University – but each generation of graduating journalists and media personnel gets little or no mentorship or training in media organisations. There are so few senior journalists around.
So it is that young, semi-experienced reporters walk into the mainstream news rooms.
This has compromised media law and the ethics of journalism. It is no surprise when we read the harsh complaints on the performance and quality of journalists in the opinion columns of the daily newspapers and on social media.
The body meant to regulate standards, the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, seems to turn a blind eye to all this and has done so for some time.
The biro and notebook are falling into young hands that have a big professional gap to bridge. And, once these young people gain momentum and experience, they too move on and the gap remains.
The thing I cannot grasp is the low wages and non-existent training for media personnel. After completing my degree in communication arts and journalism, a media firm offered me K300 a fortnight while living in Port Moresby. This was equivalent to other support staff who had no qualifications at all.
The offer made me understand why qualified journalists left the mainstream media for other communications fields and made me recognise why the mainstream media is struggling to produce quality.
While it may be wrong for the government to interfere with media affairs, I think it is fair for it to address the plight of the media personnel through agencies such as the PNG Media Council and the Labour Department.
“You have no special legislation that directly protects you as media personnel,” said my lecturer in journalism.
Yet, the risk of exposing corrupt practices and crime networks rests with journalists. It is ironic that they speak for the voiceless and inform and educate the public on national issues but their rights remain an individual risk.
Whilst there are unions for teachers, doctors and nurses, the very people who keep the four corners of Papua New Guinea informed lack one. Journalists have no special privileges like politicians. Although news has to be timely, journalists are frequently put on waitlists for flights they need to cover breaking news.
The only time they get special privileges is when they accompany politicians and bureaucrats who expect good coverage afterwards. At times bribes and prize money is given for favours. This is where media law and ethics should come into play.
Too many single source stories make their way into the news. A single source story too easily reflects a biased view and is an indication of poor research by a journalist. A well written story is not just “he said this” or “she said that”. It is an examination of an issue from different angles and viewpoints.
Also, the issue of using materials supplied for publication is ignored by young journalists who take information unquestioningly from sources. This contravenes point 10 of the PNG Broadcasting Code of Practice which states: “When a strong editorial reason warrants the inclusion in any programme of recorded or prepared material supplied by, on behalf of, official bodies, companies or campaigning organizations, its source should be revealed”.
In journalism, there is a difference between reporting on an event and reporting on an issue. Usually reporting on an issue requires research. But most young journalists are event and happening reporters. There’s lack of critical thinking and analysis – a result of poor mentorship.
EMTV Lae bureau chief Scott Waide, an example for young journalists because of his style of reporting on cross cutting issues, once told us: “Use events as an avenue to meet bureaucrats and politicians to investigate issue-based stories”.
One of the veteran PNG TV journalists, John Higgins, is sharp in his reporting. He is also a real mentor.
Understanding the cultural diversity and level of literacy of our people is very important for those intending to be journalists, yet I find papers these days stuffed with jargon and clichés.
As a graduate journalist I get irritated by ‘walk-in recruitment’ where people are made journalists without any special training. What does this do for knowledge and standards?
Then the public comment on poor journalistic practice when the reporter isn’t a journalist’s bootlace.
Sure, anyone can write a story, but journalism is more than just writing. It’s better leave the profession to trained and qualified people so the two journalism schools in Papua New Guinea can serve their purpose.