Herick’s fictional tales capture the true human spirit
Marape appoints 3 opposition MPs to new PNG ministry

On campaigning, strategy & social media in PNG politics


PORT MORESBY – During the recent Australian election campaign, the Labor Party twirled haplessly around the issue of north Queensland coal mining, convincing nobody about where it actually stood on the issue.

And it went on to lose an election it was meant to win, a win which the tropical constituency might have provided had only Labor adopted a more strategic and coherent position.

It might have had a winning election strategy if it had understood the precept that, if you take something away from people without giving them something back, you’re going to end up in deep doo-doo. As Labor did.

In Australia’s deep north, in people’s minds what being taken away was jobs and the strategic reciprocal really should have been a big, job-creating renewables project. But, like Labor, this ended up nowhere to be seen.

Not for the first time was I reminded that Australia’s politicians too often lose the clarity of good strategy amongst the smoke, rubble and acrimony of election campaigns.

I remark on this because it’s not a deficiency I’ve observed so far in Papua New Guinea’s new leader, James Marape.

In fact, the opening rhetorical gambits of his recently acquired prime ministership have been most impressive.

In three major declarations – one on Facebook (‘richest black Christian nation’), one in a national broadcast (‘the reconstruction of Team PNG’) and another in a statement to public servants (‘tell me how you can lead your organisation’) – he spelled out the key strategic goals he intends to pursue as prime minister.

Now we’ve yet to see Marape perform (as that most skeptical of assemblages, the ex-kiaps, have already reminded me), but given that it’s best to know where you want to go before you start, Marape has quickly offered an intelligent and inspirational roadmap.

So far as I could determine, not a single key area requiring his attention was overlooked and it didn’t take him an excessive number of words for his vision to be enunciated – and this included his expectations of himself.

One aspect noticed and much commented upon by many Papua New Guineans was his commitment to use social media to maintain regular contact with the people.

There are about a million social media users in PNG, which, while accounting for only about 12% of the population, is an important million.

That’s because social media – which in PNG usually signifies Facebook which has 800,000 users, 10% of the population – unlike mainstream media is largely generated by the people themselves around the things they want to talk about in the way they want to talk about them.

This may not be pretty but it’s a pretty effective because it interfaces directly with the best system of communication humans ever devised – word of mouth.

We saw social media come into its own in PNG with the overthrow of Peter O’Neill. Now success is said to have a thousand fathers but in this case one man can claim greater paternity than others in O’Neill’s demise.

That is the member for Madang in PNG's parliament, Bryan Kramer.

Kramer has a Facebook site, Kramer Report, with nearly 120,000 followers and he is big time into using it for political comment, discussion and often dramatic revelation.

If ever there was short, sharp route into the public mind in PNG, it is Bryan Kramer’s Facebook site.

Week after week, month after month, he took on the O’Neill government and its shamelessness.

Single stories often attracted as many as 10,000 likes and 1,000 comments and who knows how many more through republication (‘shares’).

And what was O’Neill’s reaction – well, just a few months ago he was threatening to ban Facebook in PNG altogether.

Now, with Kramer’s  verbal grenades and the huge public response they triggered feeding directly into a national word of mouth conversation, it is no surprise the new PM, far from wanting to ban Facebook, has decided he’ll jump on to the platform instead.

As I remarked to a group of journalists at a media workshop here on Tuesday, the 2022 general election looks like shaping up as a social media election and heaven help any politician who’s not on board.

The truth is that social media, for all its flaws, has become a huge force for public participation, debate and democracy in PNG.

It doesn’t replace strategy (which Marape seems on top of) and it doesn’t replace stamping out corruption (which Marape promises to do) but, in communication terms, it’s a game changer.

You can link to the Kramer Report here and to James Marape's Facebook page here


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Lindsay F Bond

And in Australia, proudly protecting citizens from naughtinesses, plod a constabulary to counter threat of what is communicated among us.

And in astonishment we blink and try to gain bearings and share quizzically less than amazing comment of what is committed among us.

And in acclamation of participatory citizenship and with acquired armament of dissemination devices, tweets are of what is questioned among us.

And in account "...This was a first for the AFP — they'd never had one of their raids live-tweeted before..."
See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/investigative-journalism/2019-06-08/federal-police-raid-abc-office-john-lyons-live-tweeting/11192898

Philip Fitzpatrick

The National claims to have 63,000+ readers and the Post Courier claims 45,000+ readers.

Readership doesn't seem to be declining either.

Like most things PNG you have to take statistics with a grain of salt.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Oh, and both the Post Courier and The National have websites that people presumably read.

A lot of ex-PNGs in Oz read them too.

Philip Fitzpatrick

And I guess that neither the Post Courier nor The National have much penetration into the rural areas.

People do tend to pass them around however and I guess that's a multiplier effect.

I forgot to mention radio. Can't find any up to date figures on its number of listeners but they must be significant.

Anyway, as you've mentioned, all the movers and shakers use Facebook so your prediction could prove true.

Pity about the poor folks out in the bush though.

Keith Jackson

Post Courier 33000; National 23000. Pretty small beer in grand scheme of things

Peter Sandery

Keith, despite my being a member of the ex-kiaps lot by former occupation, I agree mostly with your comments. A point worth considering in relation to the last Australian federal election for Queensland is that while the jobs/Adani issue was front and centre, it was obvious that at least from the time of the last Qld State election that a substantial number of mine workers, in the Burdekin electorate at least were becoming extremely dis-illusioned with the way Labor was going, even then. Finally, I think that dear old Malcom Turnbull may well have galvanised the Queensland voters out of their torpor as he demonstrated to them what they could expect from the South if they did not take a bit more interest in politics generally and voting in particular.
As regards James Marape's abilities, his initial foray into the field reminds me of the late Andrew Andaijah, a leader who I thought had the potential not only to unite, as much as possible the Hulis, but the whole of the then Southern Highlands as well.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This statement may also be relevant and of interest.

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose released this statement, in relation to the Australian Federal Police raids at the broadcaster's Sydney headquarters this week.

"On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week's raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.

An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy.

It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.

Observance of this basic tenet of the community's right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.

The raid is unprecedented — both to the ABC and to me.

In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.

It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week's events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.

I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the "substantial concern" registered by the Corporation.

There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.

While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.

Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface.

Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.

In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.

The onus must always be on the public's right to know.

If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.

As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.

Independence is not exercised by degrees.

It is absolute."

Philip Fitzpatrick

The other big communicators with a large footprint in PNG are the two main newspapers, The National and the Post Courier.

Looking at their circulation figures I would put them on a par with Facebook.

They reach a lot of those people not on Facebook.

And like Facebook what they say gets passed on by word of mouth and in the multiple readers of each copy of the actual paper itself.

Unfortunately the people who own them and the people who write for them have none of the fire and community spirit of someone like Bryan Kramer.

One is owned by arch conservative Rupert Murdoch and the other by the exploitative logger Rimbunan Hijau and they both echo that ownership.

Marape needs to do something about that but what I'm not sure. EMTV might be a useful model however.

With regard to the sceptical kiaps I think they have some legitimate concerns about Marape.

Marape had a powerful position in the O'Neill government and yet he didn't say anything about all the corruption. You have to ask yourself why.

Secondly, he appears to have benefited through vote rigging and intimidation during the last election.

Thirdly, we have seen apparent messiah prime ministers in the past (O'Neill was one of them) making all sorts of promises and then reneging on most of them.

I think the kiaps secretly wish Marape well and hope that he will at last be a different prime minister.

In the meantime we reserve our right to be sceptical until proven otherwise.

Lindsay F Bond

Tectextok is the go for PNG?

But tok of grenades? Nah. Kramer has been executive head of the emergent crew hosing down the spoil that was of a wrecker, and just maybe, averting a more explosive detriment to a nation that is learning how to track and 'guide' its politicians.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)