Social media: a friend or foe to Papua New Guinea's mainstream media?

11/10/2012 16:43

Is social media such as Facebook a friend or foe to PNG's mainstream media?





By Ben Yamai

Can social media transform Papua New Guinea? This question was posed by researcher and PhD candidate Michelle Nayahamui Rooney recently in light of the increased presence of social media in discussions on national issues, particularly on politics and development.

Her focus was on the likely ramifications the burgeoning population of social media users in PNG would have for policy development and general societal interactions. The use of social media has given what was previously a voiceless electorate an avenue through which their concerns, frustrations and aspirations are aired.

She goes on to stating some pertinent issues including how society can ensure that “this shift in power and voice towards those who master the art of social media is made in a way that new power actors are equally held accountable for what they say and do with their skill in an evolving social context”.

The focus here however, is on the effect this “evolving social context” is likely to have on the mainstream media, particularly newspapers in Papua New Guinea.

Social Media Platforms in PNG

There are various social media platforms in PNG today which are easily accessible to Papua New Guineans who have access to the internet via personal computers, internet cafes, or mobile phones with internet access capabilities. These include personal or multi-user blogs, Twitter, My Space, and Facebook. The latter in particular already has PNG membership in excess of 125,000.

According to Socialbakers, a global social media and digital analytics company, this number accounts for 105.68% of the country’s online population. (Socialbakers generates online statistics to assist organizations measure the effectiveness of their social marketing campaigns across all major networks, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+).

Other statistics provided include user age distribution which shows that the age bracket of 18-34 accounts for more than 60% total membership as of September 2012.

Admittedly, these numbers account for a very small portion of the country’s total population, however, Rooney relates to an observation made by two prominent bloggers and social media commentators, Martyn Namarong and Alexander Rheeney, that Papua New Guinea’s predominantly close and intertwined network of individuals and communities, along with a mobile network that has significantly greater reach will ensure that the influence of social media can be “translated and amplified”.
Increased Discontentment with Mainstream Media

The advent of social media platforms in PNG has increased the ability of Papua New Guineans to access news and information considerably, with many ‘breaking stories’ featuring on social media before journalists and news organizations become aware.

At the height of the political impasse mid-2012, there was so much information being circulated on the various platforms, prominently on Facebook through focus pages such as Sharp Talk and Talking Edge, and on various PNG blogs. And although much of what was being circulated as ‘news’ and information was not independently verifiable, social and political awareness of users was enhanced through this ready access to ‘news’ and information.

Despite this lack of veracity on news sources, etc., Rheeney admitted that some in the mainstream media then, found it difficult to create new angles on stories which had already been published by social media personalities.

This experience also gave the social media user an appreciation of receiving ‘news’ at the press of a button, and for many, ‘news’ received about issues from colleague members of groups and pages they are associated with was deemed as relatively more credible than what would be broadcast, televised or printed later.

Indeed the public’s demand for quality news has been significantly increased as a result. The online readership of newspapers in particular has been vocal on the quality of the news product that hits the streets, so much so that on the Sharp Talk page, several posts and threads have been created in the past few months specifically dedicated to news items published by the country’s major daily papers.

Even the presentation of news on the two television stations have not been spared from scathing attacks and analyses by Papua New Guinean users of Facebook.

Yamai: Facebookers appealing for more indepth investigative reporting by mainstream media.

People take issue with, amongst other things, the accuracy of news being reported, and the timing of reporting of issues many perceive as sensitive, to what was once considered trivial such as grammatical errors, pronunciation, sentence structure, on-screen presentation (TV), and usage of technical terms in the context of news being reported.

However, of more concern for this increasingly discerning online readership has been the depth of news information being disseminated. There have been calls from Facebook users for more in-depth and investigative reporting from journalists, particularly on issues of national concern such as government policies, economic and development programs, and the exposing of corrupt activities by elected and bureaucratic leadership.

Issues for Mainstream Media

The social media threat and all that it entails, to traditional media organizations is very real, and the mainstream media in Papua New Guinea will ignore this at their own peril. This also includes opinions being posted online about the public’s perception of newspapers, radio, and television stations and their ability (or inability) to present news.

It will be important for them to either harness this phenomenon or to devise strategies to mitigate its increasing dominance in the “news” disseminating sector.

In an analysis of how newspapers in particular can stem the tide flowing against their existence, Woody Lewis, a social media strategist in the US has suggested several strategies newspapers can adopt.
These include increasing their online presence through headline feeds via Twitter and Facebook and creating more online events through which readers can interact. An example of the latter would be for a newspaper in PNG to post streaming videos of the upcoming PNG Games in Kokopo and allow for interactions from its online readership through comments and/or observations.

Newspapers can also customize their delivery via services which will allow their readership to choose from different categories, as well as posting links to related news being carried by international media partners particularly for overseas news.

Alternatively, news organizations can follow the example of The New York Times by creating applications or platforms through which their news content can be combined with other resources, particularly advertisers and non-government organizations.

A review of internal mechanisms such as personnel and resources can also help the mainstream media improve their credibility and acceptance by the general readership or audience.

The Way Forward

Although Papua New Guinea has not reached the stage countries like Australia and the United States are in where large segments of their populations having an online presence, and by extension, easy access to social media platforms, it is important for our media to adopt strategies to mitigate the impact social media will have on their operations as the online population in the country increases.

Whatever strategy or path the mainstream media in PNG choose, they cannot remain complacent. The ICT sector in PNG is in a constant state of flux, ever on the upward, and access to the internet for Papua New Guineans will not ebb.

Questions are already being asked at the policy level how this phenomenon will affect social, political and economic development. And for our newspapers, radio and television stations, ignorance will not be bliss.

It is also important for the mainstream media to appreciate that social media can allow portions of Papua New Guinea’s largely marginalized population a voice through which women, disempowered youth and even ordinary Papua New Guineans in rural communities can express their views, (Rheeney).

There is also evidence showing increased collaboration between social media commentators to highlight problems and challenges being faced by communities.

The mainstream media must innovate, as in the words of Woody Lewis, “the word ‘newspaper’ will take on a different meaning…it will continue to describe some of the most hallowed brand names in the world. Social media will play a big part in that transformation. As the dynamics of our society change, as institutions go public or private, or disappear entirely, the need to report these events in a responsible manner will be even more critical. Social journalism is more than a buzzword; it’s the way social media will save the industry”.


Michelle Nayahamui Rooney is a PhD candidate with the SSGM, IPS, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU.

Alexander Rheeney is a PNG journalist and administrator of the PNG Perspective blog and website.

Martyn Namorong writes and administers the Namorong Report blog and advocates alternative models for development.

Woody Lewis is a Social Media Strategist and Web Architect. His blog covers social media strategy for newspapers.

  • Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed besides sourced information in the article belong to the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of sources acknowledged above.