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Media Ownership Trends and the Implications for Democracy in Papua New Guinea.

Media Ownership Trends and the Implications for Democracy in Papua New Guinea.

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Published by RichardRooney
Media ownership trends and the implications for democracy in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Richard Rooney

May 2004.

Unpublished manuscript

The free market for media in Papua New Guinea has failed as an agency of information and debate which facilitates the functions of democracy.

This paper explores the free market model of ownership in PNG and argues that the vast majority of the population – the poor, the uneducated and the geographically isolated – have little or no access to the media.

The paper identifies the present media market as dominated by foreign-owned conglomerates. Using content analysis of news bulletins on the country’s only television station it identifies how members of elite groups dominate the news agenda to the exclusion of all other groups.

A critique of the free market model identifies the weaknesses inherent in the PNG media market and suggestions are made on how community-based interventions might provide presently disadvantaged populations with platforms for a diversity of voices and opinions through its openness to participation.


At the time of writing Richard Rooney taught on the Communications (Arts) Journalism programme at Divine Word University, Madang, Papua New Guinea and was the university’s director of academic quality assurance.
Media ownership trends and the implications for democracy in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Richard Rooney

May 2004.

Unpublished manuscript

The free market for media in Papua New Guinea has failed as an agency of information and debate which facilitates the functions of democracy.

This paper explores the free market model of ownership in PNG and argues that the vast majority of the population – the poor, the uneducated and the geographically isolated – have little or no access to the media.

The paper identifies the present media market as dominated by foreign-owned conglomerates. Using content analysis of news bulletins on the country’s only television station it identifies how members of elite groups dominate the news agenda to the exclusion of all other groups.

A critique of the free market model identifies the weaknesses inherent in the PNG media market and suggestions are made on how community-based interventions might provide presently disadvantaged populations with platforms for a diversity of voices and opinions through its openness to participation.


At the time of writing Richard Rooney taught on the Communications (Arts) Journalism programme at Divine Word University, Madang, Papua New Guinea and was the university’s director of academic quality assurance.

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PNG ownership 1
Media ownership trends and the implications for democracy in Papua New Guinea.
Dr Richard RooneyMay 2004.Unpublished manuscript
Introduction
The free market for media in Papua New Guinea has failed as an agency of informationand debate which facilitates the functions of democracy.This paper explores the free market model of ownership in PNG and argues that the vastmajority of the population
 – 
the poor, the uneducated and the geographically isolated
 – 
 have little or no access to the media.The paper identifies the present media market as dominated by foreign-owned
conglomerates. Using content analysis of news bulletins on the country‟s only television
station it identifies how members of elite groups dominate the news agenda to theexclusion of all other groups.A critique of the free market model identifies the weaknesses inherent in the PNG mediamarket and suggestions are made on how community-based interventions might providepresently disadvantaged populations with platforms for a diversity of voices and opinionsthrough its openness to participation.
Background to PNG
PNG, which became independent of Australian administration in 1975, has an extremelyfragmented society with more than 800 distinct cultural groups, each with their ownlang
uage. About 85 per cent of PNG‟s population, estimated at 5 million, live in isolated
scattered rural settlements, dependent on subsistence agriculture for their survival andorganised around groups of extended families living in their own little villages. Althoughpeople do move between different places, each community has developed its ownspecific hierarchies, myths, rituals and languages. Because these lives unfolded withinlimited geographical areas, people directly communicated with one another throughwords. Historically. PNG cultures were predominantly oral and so a mass media wasunnecessary.In these oral cultures, the recording of events was hardly known. The experience of pastgenerations was passed on directly to young people through working alongside orlistening to their elders. Within these enclosed little worlds, politics was carried out at thelevel of the tribe, village or town with societies controlled by hierarchies derived from theextended family.
 
PNG ownership 2
Ownership of PNG Media
Foreign ownership dominates the media in PNG. Conglomerates own both the two daily
newspapers and the country‟s only television station.
 The Press can trace its origins to 1911 when the first newspaper the Papua Times andTropical Advertiser published for the benefit of the ex-patriate white community. Today,the rationale for newspaper production is still dominated by the needs of ex-pats.The Post-Courier is the oldest daily newspaper in PNG, established in 1969. Allied Press,
a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch‟s News
Corp, holds the majority shareholding. The
 National, launched in 1993, is PNG‟s newest daily newspaper and is owned Malaysian
-based Rimbunan Hijau Group, a multinational conglomerate built on timber, plantations,media and IT operations. (Robie, 1994). The National was launched by the then Prime
Minister Paias Wingti and attracted controversy for its foreign ownership and the paper‟sassociation with the major commercial player in PNG‟s timber industry. (Robie, 1995,
p.28).The two daily newspapers are based in the PNG capital, Port Moresby, and share ametropolitan bias. Combined they have a circulation of less than 60,000, serving apopulation of more than 5 million. These newspapers rarely circulate outside of urbanareas so the vast majority of Papua New Guineans are excluded from information. Thenewspapers charge a fifty per cent and thirty per cent surcharge on their cover prices topurchasers outside of the capital to cover the cost of distribution, thereby making thenewspapers unattractive to people with low incomes. PNG media generally privilegesurban dwellers and those with the ability to consume, as generally speaking ruralpopulations are unprofitable markets.In addition, 72 per cent of adults in PNG are illiterate and have no need for newspapers(United Nations Development Program, 1999, p.110). It follows that newspaper readersare likely to be leaders and opinion makers and this gives newspapers an influence in thecountry that far outweighs their circulation penetrations.There is one national weekly newspaper, the Wantok, published in the Tok Pisinlanguage (the lingua franca of PNG) owned by Word Publishing through Media HoldingsLtd. Its shareholders are the mainstream churches in PNG: Catholic, EvangelicalLutheran, Anglican, and Uniting Church. It has an approximate circulation of 10,000.Em-TV, owned by the Nine Network of Australia and the one television station in PNG,generates only a small proportion of its coverage locally. Broadcasting started in 1987(Foster, 1998, p.54) and is available in almost every urban centre in the country with ruraland remote areas serviced by more than 500 privately-owned satellite dishes, but in 2004,17 years after launch, the channel is still not available across the whole country.
 
PNG ownership 3
Publicly funded radio in PNG is in the hands of a bureaucracy, the National Broadcasting
Commission, which as the only radio broadcasting authority in the country is the nation‟s
public service provider (Nash, 1995, pp. 42-43). At its peak it was able to reach aboutfour million people in about 60 different languages as well as English, but it has beenundermined in recent years by financial and technical difficulties.Privately owned commercial radio has grown since the first station, Nau FM, waslaunched in 1994, by Fiji-based Communications Fiji Ltd. Yumi FM joined it in 1997.PNG FM, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Communications Fiji, now owns bothstations and there are now a growing number of commercial stations, playing mostly
music, based in and around PNG‟
s urban centres.The media in PNG is not regulated so, in theory, any person can start a company that isaimed at dissemination of information. (Mellam and Aloi, 2003, p.36). But in reality thecost of launching a media outlet is a barrier to entry and there is little advertisingavailable in the country to support media ventures. (Pamba, 2004, p.15)Of course, advertisers are not interested in audiences or readers as such. Rather, they areinterested in the ability of those people to purchase goods or services. The predominantinfluence on spending is income: the rich buy more of most things than the poor, soadvertisers are willing to pay higher rates for readers with big spending power.Those media which can attract an audience or readership which is fairly small, butextremely attractive to those who wish to sell to them, can set high advertising ratesrelative to their circulations.The PNG constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press and there is noformal censorship of the media, but there were attempts in 1996 to have media mademore accountable. There have been proposals by the government to control the press andthere was discussion on forming a media tribunal in 1988. This provoked a very strongreaction from society and the press and the Bill was never passed in Parliament. (Mellamand Daniel, 2003, pp.77-78).Although there is a free press in PNG, newspapers are heavily dependent on governmentadvertising and this places the Press in a difficult financial position if it tries to protect thepublic against bad government. There is a fear that newspapers cannot ask uncomfortablequestions for fear of losing advertising revenue and instead reproduce public relationsmaterial on behalf of the government. (Solomon, 1995, p.121). There are also claims that journalists exercise self-censorship, in particular at the National newspaper, which is
reluctant to write stories about logging because of the newspaper‟s links to the logging
industry. (Senge-Kolma, 1999, p.125).
Content analysis research

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