“THE pen is mightier than the sword” is a saying writers are familiar with. However in today’s media age it is the media corporations who seem to truly appreciate the power of those words.
Governments, politicians, international organisations, multi-national corporations and pressure groups all understand the reality that they have to master the art of pursuing their strategic interests through the media.
Media corporations, advertisers and prominent writers and commentators know they can manipulate and influence the opinions of the masses by controlling the information they release and get a desired reaction by playing around with words to create certain images in people’s minds.
This has led to the development of a new and, I believe, dangerous trend where the media’s historic role of keeping people informed now plays second fiddle to profit making and power projection.
The danger lies not in the shift of focus but in that the integrity of people can now be bought at a price and the power to control information lies in the hands of a select few.
Journalist and author John Pilger has written much about how the United States government used the media to cover up the many atrocities it committed in Iraq, including the indiscriminate bombing of small villages and embargoes on desperately needed medicines.
Most of the media instead focused on justifying the American cause in Iraq. There was a price tag on integrity. To articulate the mainstream view was a good fit with capitalism and corporate endeavour.
Closer to home, the media’s reputation in the Pacific and PNG was generally better. Papua New Guinean journalists prided themselves in their objectivity in keeping people informed and in using the media to fight inequality and corruption and promote development.
More recently, however, the coverage of some complex and controversial issues has led me to question their ethics and competency.
PNG media coverage of the Julian Moti issue, for example, left me questioning their impartiality and capability. Moti was branded by the media as a rapist, child molester and fugitive.
When I first read of his case as reported by one of PNG’s dailies, it left me disgusted at this man.
Later, while at university, I came across the Moti issue again and, having access to the internet, I was able to read a range of articles from different perspectives. With my eyes now opened to the facts, I felt disgusted with the PNG media’s coverage of the case.
To my surprise, I found the matter had been tried and discharged in a competent court comprising senior judicial officials from New Zealand, Australia and Vanuatu.
The damaging headlines in the PNG media contradicted principles of natural justice including the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
It was incongruous that a man who was proven innocent by a competent court was deemed guilty of alleged crimes and that his fate was decided by the politicians and the media and not the courts.
Essential facts like the Australian government’s sudden interest in the case several years after it was tried and discharged by the Vanuatu High Court and what this meant to the welfare of the Australian defence force operation in the Solomons, where Moti was Attorney-General, was an important aspect of the story that was thoroughly distorted and misrepresented by the media.
The PNG media’s complicity in being a cheer squad for a dubious Australian (and Papua New Guinean) political position posed many questions including was it a sheer inability to pursue investigative journalism, was it profit motivated or was it something much more sinister involving the political interests of national governments?
Media coverage of the dramatic PNG political impasse of 2011 which saw Sir Michael Somare overthrown and Peter O’Neill succeed in his grab for power also left much to be desired.
The media’s failure to understand the PNG Constitution and to communicate clearly and accurately the ruling of the PNG Supreme Court was contrary to its duty to remain neutral and objective.
The media might argue that it did not want to get involved in politics; however the decision to report as it did compromised the truth and misled the people. This assisted soften the heinous crime committed against the people of PNG in allowing an illegitimate government to run the country.
Most people quietly accepting the turn of events without realising they had been cheated and their democracy undermined.
I would argue that these and other events are examples of media corporatism and the fear of not offending those in power.
My deepest fear is that most people will read their papers and watch their television and accept things as they are presented without realising that the media is not reporting faithfully and, in so-doing, subverting democracy and human rights.
The people of Papua New Guinea need and deserve better than this from their media.