Last night I had the honour of sitting in on a discussion group (organised by the Kumul Foundation) with American Philospher and Political Economist Professor Francis Fukuyama. Professor Fukuyama is here as a consultant from the World Bank to asess how the World Bank can re-engage with PNG. He is only here on a short trip (which in my view is the very reason why most internationally initiated projects are not effectively implemented in PNG, but anyway that arguement will be saved for another day).
Fukuyama is best known for his book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ where he argued, among other things, that liberal democracy was essentially the way of the future as a universal political model. He also firmly believes that a true sustainable development in any country does not come from outside influences, and for us that would mean Australian Aid, but more so from the individual citizens of that country. One of Fukuyama’s beliefs also was that for individuals to bring about a so called ‘movement’ to effect political change a sense of national identity must first be in place.
So the discussion group went on to discuss national identity and whether they felt we had a national identity and looking at how it could be ‘created’ and then ‘sustained’. Fukuyama explained that a national identity in nearly all developed and fast emerging economies was institutionalised. In that your duty to your country and the attached national pride was drummed into you at educational institutions and through the use of the media by the government.
Which brings me to the reason for this posting which was the groups discussion on the use of the media to either ‘create’ and/or ‘sustain’ our national identity, within an apparent vacumn that had evolved in the last 15 years or so.
The group stated that in many ways the media has tried to be proactive, but threats from politicians seem to have dictated how they report. It was also stated that the media is not as strong as it could be and perhaps even the education of our journalisits did not involve the teaching of skills to investigate what could be influential reporting. Another view was that maybe you couldn’t expect any nationalism from the media because The Post Courier newspaper is owned by Murdoch’s News Ltd, The National newspaper is owned by a Malaysian company, and PNG FM and EMTV are owned by FijiTV. In terms of nationally owned media organisations, what we have is the government run National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which has been nearly dead for the last 15 odd years. You also have FM100, but that’s owned by Telikom, another government subsidiary.
Meg Taylor (a senior PNG lawyer, currently based in the U.S.), who was also at this discussion pointed out that leading up to the countrys’ independence in 1975, they had several agents in terms of media usage for preparing the country for independence, The Office of Culture, The Office of Information and of course NBC. For Meg and her generation it was an exciting and optimistic time, so the feeling of nationalism was quite strong and obviously being spurned on by the above media agents.
These office’s have disintegrated in the last 15 years. So it would appear then that one of the key ingredients (among others) in ‘creating’ and ‘sustaining’ our national identity began to falter at this point and hence crippling the opportunities for institutionlised national identity building especially through the use of the media. The key reason for these offices’ demise was clearly pointed out by Meg that the resources to sustain these media agents were simply re-directed elsewhere. NBC and Telikom are consequent resuts of these re-directed resources.
So what have we turned to?
In the obvious vacumn that resulted, some at the discussion group pointed out Religion and Sport (among others) as some ways of creating and/or sustaining that national identity. I think everyone has a friend or relative that goes to crusades where they pray for ‘the healing of the nation’ and every PNG’ean knows where they were when Ryan Pini won a Gold Medal. I guess one can say that the media also assists in spreading their messages.
The discussion group also mentioned that the internet had for sometime now been emerging as quite an effective form of media by which nationalism could be expressed. Great examples of these are http://www.masalai-i-tokaut.com and http://www.pngscape.net/, not to mention also the numerous threads of emails that string from PC to PC when some international consultant tells us, yet again, that our country is ‘on the brink of collapse’ (I think we’ve been on that Brink for nearly over 10 years now).
Obviously the population with access to the internet is very small, but I imagine that it is this small group however that will be quite influential in leading nation building in the next 20 years, (not necessarily in politics alone but also in their various industries and careers). If the internet is therefore the conversation and a medium by which to ‘create’ and/or ‘sustain’ our national identity then it has already begun. It is unfiltered, it can be harsh and sometimes it can be plain stupid, but at least people are talking. It remains to be seen however how all that online talk will translate into offline action in the coming years.
[At some point all the talk and emails need to be met with action. The media at the end of the day is just a tool. So we will all wait until a handful from among all this talk puts their hands up to say ‘I will make an effort to change PNG’ and they will ask us, ‘will you help me?’ And we will all support them because through numerous emails, websites and blogs we have come to know that, what they want is what we want. The internet is by no means the silver bullet, but it will be one of many factors in this quest for a national identity and political change]
Read also a related article by Solomon Kantha: http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20050912/focus.htm