12-months as Post-Courier Editor
"We will improve and can only get better to keep you informed"
IT is 12 months since I took on the role as editor of the Post-Courier and 2013 has been a mixed bag of success but I am confident we can and we will improve and can only get better to keep Papua New Guineans informed in the New Year.
The editorial in our last edition of the year (Tuesday, December 31, 2013) basically sums up the kind of work we have done this year, starting with the revelation of armed incursions by Indonesian poachers into PNG territory, cult activities at the Bumayong Secondary School in Lae, a special Spotlight on Djoko report that zoomed in on the Government’s failure to respond to Indonesia’s request for the deportation of Indonesian fugitive Djoko Tjandra, and finally our two-week campaign against the decision by National Parliament Speaker Theo Zurenuoc to remove intricate carvings from the precincts of the House.
Running a central newsroom on Lawes Road, Port Moresby with a staff of over 40 and bureaus in Lae (Morobe Province), Madang (Madang), Mt Hagen (Western Highlands), Kokopo (East New Britain) and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Buka and Arawa) is not an easy task. Consequently, I want to take this opportunity to thank our Chief of Staff Gorethy Kenneth for being the newsroom’s central operations manager over the last year, coordinating and compiling stories for the daily newspaper from Lawes Road and our bureaus as well as being the administrative backup during my absence from Port Moresby. The arrival of Night Editor Lawrence Fong at Lawes Road has in recent months transformed our subbing desk into a well-oil machine, enabling us to meet press deadlines and more importantly our freight runs to the centres outside Port Moresby.
News cycle can be very unpredictable at times (which is the beauty of working in the media industry but a real headache if you want to put in place a 12-month plan) but looking back at the last 12 months I can say we have done well.
Spotlight on Djoko
Details on how the Indonesian fugitive Djoko Tjandra used his Papua New Guinean passport to obtain visas to travel to Japan and Taiwan were revealed in this story. The PNG Immigration office issued him the passport under the alias “Joe Chan” and Mr Tjandra/Joe Chan, enabling him to travel abroad under Joe Chan on at least two occasions. The developments become a concern for Indonesia who continued to request his deportation to Indonesia. The association of Djoko Tjandra with a number of PNG Government ministers (including Ministers Puka Temu and Ano Pala) was also a cause for concern for Papua New Guineans. To date the Indonesian fugitive with a PNG passport continues to evade Indonesian authorities despite assurances and investigations announced by the PNG Government to get to the bottom of the matter.
OUTCOME: It is understood the absence of an extradition treaty between PNG and Indonesia was a major factor behind the delay in Port Moresby acting on the request from Jakarta. However, the signing of a treaty in June between the two neighboring countries should clear the way for formalities to take its course but over six months later and we are yet to see progress on this matter.
PNG-Indon border focus
Our special report in February basically highlighted the lack of PNG Government presence on portions of the 760 km Papua New Guinea-Indonesia land border and how Indonesian poachers were capitalising on this by conducting illegal raids into PNG territory and the lack of income earning opportunities on our side of the border. Our Lae-based award-winning senior reporter Haiveta Kivia was despatched to the Sandaun Province and interviewed disgruntled Wutung villagers, who decried the lack of income compared to their peers on the Indonesian side of the border.
OUTCOME: The Government sent a team (which included PNG Defence Force soldiers) to the Bensbach area in the Western Province to investigate the reports of illegal border incursions and the raids targeting wildlife in the area. The lone policeman in the area was recognised for his efforts as the Government’s only representative in the far flung community.
Cult activities at the Bumayong Secondary School in Lae, Morobe Province – one of the country’s largest schools – was exposed in a report put together by our former editor Oseah Philemon and supported by newsroom staff. According to the report an entire generation of young people in primary and secondary schools in Lae will lose their future if school gangs are not stopped immediately. After 20 years of uncontrolled growth in schools, the cult gangs are stopping at nothing to increase their numbers and influence on students in just about all schools in Lae.
OUTCOME: The Education Department refused to accept responsibility and deal with the flourishing of cult activities in the Lae-based secondary schools, instead referring the matter back to the school’s administration.
Our two-week front page coverage on the decision by the controversial decision by the National Parliament Speaker Theo Zurenuoc to remove intricate carvings from the House was a good way to end the year. Our coverage was extensive and the fact it was front page for two consecutive weeks showed our commitment to ensuring it remained in the public spotlight and the key characters (and their actions) continued to come under scrutiny. Our editorials were also unrelenting, highlighting what we thought was the Speaker’s blatant imposition of his religious ideologies on a PNG icon and institution that was set up by our forefathers to chart the course for a young democratic nation – not use it to create division amongst ordinary Papua New Guineans and trample on the religious rights and freedom of other citizens.
OUTCOME: The Speaker refused to back down from the exercise despite the personal intervention of the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, former PM and East Sepik Governor Sir Michael Somare as well as the National Museum and Art Gallery and various other stakeholders. His refusal, we think, brought the position of the chair of the legislation into disrepute and consequently warranted his removal as the Speaker of National Parliament.
Improving the quality of our articles will continue to be a priority for the Post-Courier in the New Year. Just like this year it will be a work in progress as we strive to improve. But rather than sit down and wait for the Government to address the institutional and capacity problems currently being experienced in some of our journalism schools, we have opted to be more proactive and introduced short 40-minute lectures in our Lawes Road newsroom every Friday for reporters who continue to struggle to produce quality copy. Our News Content Coordinator Gavin Heard is spearheading this project and we continue to discuss and review the content of the short lectures in a bid to address reporters’ problem areas in reporting and basic news writing. I am looking forward to 2014 when I plan to announce a major journalism-education initiative within our newsroom that would steer our budding reporters in the right direction and giving them the basic skills that would ensure their stories are balanced and objective.
In May this year I gave a presentation on behalf of the Media Council of PNG at the University of PNG to mark the World Media Freedom celebrations and appealed to the Government to channel funding and resources directly to our journalism training schools – in a bid to turn the tide in the deterioration and dropping of standards that was evident in the graduates we were recruiting. To date I am yet to get a response to my plea from the Government, though I note Mr O’Neill’s Chief of Staff Isaac Lupari at a Christmas party hosted for the media indicating that the media fraternity needed to get the MCPNG up and running again so it can liaise with the Government on the many challenges that the industry is currently facing. I couldn’t agree more with Mr Lupari and look forward to working with colleagues in the New Year to get the council up and running again, we are missing out on a lot of training and educational opportunities offered by both local and international partners due to the absence of a working and effective MCPNG. And I also take the opportunity to thank the current council executive led by the late Joe Kanekane for keeping the organisation on its feet until a new board and management are appointed.
I am a big fan of collaboration so my two weeks working out of our sister paper in Brisbane, Courier Mail, last month was an awesome experience. I returned to Port Moresby with ideas on how we can improve the quality of our articles as well as make newsroom management more streamlined and in tune with the changing environment including social media. So thanks to my managing director and the management for their support for this trip – it was a worthwhile experience and definitely added new perspectives on how we as a newspaper can continue to improve.
This is one reason why I am looking forward to the New Year because our newsroom will be operating at another level in 2014 and the onus will be on staff including reporters to move with the changes and adapt for the betterment of our product. For now the initiatives which I plan to roll out will remain a “state secret” until the mechanics are put in place to enable its effective implementation and the results at the end of the day are positive and for the benefit of our readers.
My one-week participation with the Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney was also an eye opener. I got to meet other young like-minded Papua New Guineans and Australians who also advocated change in our neighbouring countries and were passionate about moving PNG-Australia relations forward. The dialogue was an inaugural event and the feedback from the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was positive for similar events to be held in the future, though the program will continue to be refined to accommodate the different challenges both countries continue to face now and in the future.
I couldn’t have come this far without the support of my family who have stood by me in my toughest assignment to date. Going through a marriage separation from my partner while simultaneously being the editor of the Post-Courier wasn’t easy, it was tough and I came close to throwing it all away as I lacked the confidence and drive to move on and look forward. Thank God my managing director was an understanding man and my immediate family came to my rescue, especially my small sister Maureen who had to sacrifice her studies to relocate to Port Moresby to mind my three jewels while I tried to adjust to the demands of newsroom life. Special mention too of the Pearl who entered my life in May and filled the gap that my children’s mother left when she made her exit, her companionship between May and December 2013 (despite all the scrutiny and criticism she came under) gave me the confidence and drive to get on with the job of running the newspaper. It is now December 31st and we are just a couple of hours away from welcoming 2014 so I just want to say thank you for being there for me Pearl, I wouldn’t have come this far without you and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
And finally to my newsroom colleagues starting from the senior staff Chief of Staff Gorethy Kenneth, Night Editor Lawrence Fong, Business Editor Ancilla Wrakuale, News Content Coordinator Gavin Heard, Digital Editor Frank Genaia, Bureau Chiefs Rosalyn Albaniel (Madang), Grace Tiden (Kokopo), Franco Nebas (Lae), Johnny Poiya (Mt Hagen) and Dave Lornie (AROB) and all the reporters, sub editors and other administration and clerical staff. I just want to take this opportunity to thank you all for seeing the year through with me and I can only assure you that we have better times ahead in 2014. There will be major changes in the way we collect news and file our stories and we will also have major staff appointments to compliment that new process so hang there because you won’t be disappointed. And a special shout out and acknowledgement of the roles that the other departments within the company play, together we can move mountains.