‘That day I saw the power of media, and how it can be tragic’

By   /   July 23, 2016  /   5 Comments

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Emily Matasororo was on campus that fateful day last month in Papua New Guinea when heavily armed police in camouflage fatigues opened fire with tear gas and live rounds on the peaceful students. She tells her story and what needs to happen now.

University of Papua New Guinea's Emily Matasororo ... in the background, images of heavily armed police shortly before they opened fire on peaceful students. Image:" Del Abcede/PMC

University of Papua New Guinea’s Emily Matasororo … in the background, images of heavily armed police shortly before they opened fire on peaceful students. Image:” Del Abcede/PMC

David Robie also blogs at Café Pacific


Surprising that a conference involving some of the brightest minds in journalism education from around the world should be ignored by New Zealand’s local media.

Some 220 people from 43 countries were at the Fourth World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) conference in Auckland.

The range of diversity alone at the Auckland University of Technology hosted event was appealing, but it was the heady mix of ideas and contributions that offered an inspiring backdrop.

Topics included strategies for teaching journalism for mobile platforms – the latest techniques; “de-westernising” journalism education in an era of new media genres; transmedia storytelling; teaching hospitals; twittering, facebooking and snapchat — digital media under the periscope; new views on distance learning, and 21st century ethical issues in journalism are just a representative sample of what was on offer.

Keynote speakers included Divina Frau-Meigs (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) with a riveting account on how “powerful journalism” makes “prime ministers jump”, the Center of Public Integrity’s Peter Bale (a New Zealander) on the need to defend press freedom, and Tongan newspaper publisher and broadcaster who turned “inclusivity” on its head with an inspiring “include us” appeal from the Pacific,”where we live in the biggest continent on planet Earth”.

But for me, the most moving message of all came not from those who spoke about “reporting dangerously” (such as Simon Cottle) or the very future of journalism, but from a young quietly spoken Papua New Guinean woman who has “lived” through a freedom of speech and the press struggle while facing live bullets.

Emily Matasororo, leader of the Journalism Strand at the University of Papua New Guinea, was on campus that fateful day last month (June 8) when heavily armed PNG police in camouflage fatigues opened fire with tear gas and live rounds on the peaceful students. She was actually in the crowd fired on.

Emily’s testimony
Matasororo gave her testimony at a WJEC16 panel on journalism education in the Pacific chaired by me, with the presence of the panel members being sponsored by the NZ Institute of Pacific Research.

Explaining how the two months on student unrest began across Papua New Guinea’s six universities – but mostly centred on UPNG in the capital of Port Moresby, and the University of Technology in the second city Lae – she said it was an irony that protests were triggered on World Press Freedom Day (May 3).

“The Journalism Strand was preparing to celebrate freedom of the press that day. However, this did not eventuate because the academic space was taken up by a student forum.

“This was the beginning of an eight-week stand-off by the students who demanded that the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, step down from office and face police over allegations of fraud. However, the prime minister said: ‘I will not step down.’”

Matasororo said O’Neill had challenged the issue of an arrest warrant against him, saying this case was now before the courts. Under the Papua New Guinea Constitution, O’Neill could be removed by a no-confidence vote, or on criminal charges. But the former option was shut down this week when O’Neill survived a no-confidence vote by 85 to 21 votes.

Among other issues that spurred the students into organising class boycotts and protests was the O’Neill government’s actions in dismantling the police fraud squad [National Fraud and Anti-Corruption directorate] – the very office that would investigate the prime minister. But, as Matasororo pointed out, the squad was later reinstated.

Another O’Neill move was adjourning Parliament until November to stave off the possibility of the no-confidence vote. (A Supreme Court ruling forced the reconvening of Parliament and the vote).

Violating the Constitution
Students became convinced that Prime Minister O’Neill was acting in violation of the Constitution and they saw themselves as defending the rule of law on behalf of all Papua New Guineans.

apr-upng-newspapers-pngtoday 400wide

The burning of newspapers at the University of Papua New Guinea. Newspapers were also set on fire at Unitech. Image: Asia Pacific Report

Earlier in the protests students at UPNG had set on fire 800 copies of the two national dailies being sold at the Waigani campus front gates in frustration over what they perceived to be the news media taking sides and promoting the O’Neill government’s agenda.

“The burning was an indication that they disliked the papers’ coverage of events leading up the [first] protest. Why should the Student Representative Council go as far as preferring certain media outlets over others?” Matasororo asked the forum which was syndicated globally on livestream.

The Post-Courier, The National and television station EM TV were banned covering student activities on campus. The UPNG is a public and government-run institution and is a public space open to everyone, including the media. If students reacted that way, it brought up issues of credibility and integrity of the freedom of the press in Papua New Guinea.

“Which brings to light the question of ethics.”

Matasororo quoted from a Loop PNG report bylined Carmella Gware, who talked to a student leader in spite of the ban on local media:

“We saw the newspapers and saw that the reports were very shallow and biased.

“They were not actual reports of what we students are portraying at the university. That’s why, to show our frustration, we went out to the bus stop and burnt those papers.

“What we displayed in the morning shows that we have no trust in the media,” the student leader stated (sic) said.

– Carmella Gware – Loop PNG

Investigation needed
“While I acknowledge and appreciate the tireless efforts of the media’s coverage of the student protests,’ said Matasororo, “for me this is a very strong statement that needs to be investigated.

“This needs to be done by all stakeholders concerned to promote fair and just reporting and the essence of good ethics and good journalism.

“The stakeholders must include, but not be limited to he following: the publisher and managements of the papers, the Media Council of PNG, Transparency International, Ombudsman Commission and the journalism educators of the UPNG and the Catholic-run Divine Word University.

“For the publishers, credibility is questioned; for the Media Council it is a threat against the profession; and for the educators – where are we going wrong in teaching ethics, are we giving enough prominence that it deserves?

“These are questions that need to be answered, in order to promote a robust and conducive environment in which journalists should operate in.”

On June 8, said Matasororo, the protests – until then peaceful – “took an ugly turn”. Several students were wounded, some news reports saying as many as 30. But there were no deaths.

“Social media was running hot with images and comments uploaded in real time. Some of what was coming from social media was emotional reporting.

“Information was distorted with some news stations reporting casualties.

“An Australian-based media outlet reported four deaths and isolated reports on radio, television and social media that day created a new level of fear, confusion and anxiety among residents.

“For me that day, I saw how powerful the media was, and when it is not applied correctly, it can be tragic.”

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About the author

Dr David Robie

Professor at AUT University

Dr David Robie is professor of journalism and director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. He is a strong advocate of independent media at the country’s journalism schools. David has published the media transparency blog Café Pacific since 2006. - See More


  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Dr David Robie said; “Surprising that a conference involving some of the brightest minds in journalism education from around the world should be ignored by New Zealand’s local media.

    Some 220 people from 43 countries were at the Fourth World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) conference in Auckland.

    The range of diversity alone at the Auckland University of Technology hosted event was appealing, but it was the heady mix of ideas and contributions that offered an inspiring backdrop.”




  2. Here in New Zealand our own students have since the introduction of users pays in university education become almost voiceless. Laws have been passed that limit the activities of students and press coverage of our universities has dropped dramatically.
    Universities spend most of their time and money on advertising and competing for students because of the neoliberal [business] model. Salaries for University mangers have gone through the roof, here in Palmerston North the VC is the highest paid public servant in the city…while student fees have climbed to meet these outrageous salary increases.
    While I doubt if the government would call in the armed offender squad to stop a revolution amongst students, they have threatened to call in the police to break strike action by Airport Custom Officers. As our higher education system is now completely money based it may not be too long before students see the need for stronger action relating to how their universities are being run. Our students like those in PNG need a media which cares about students as it does about advertising revenues from universities. A bit of investigative journalism around the billions now owed by students wouldn’t go amiss…but don’t hold your breath…

    • Joanna P says:

      For some time i have thought students subjected to the “user pays” model need to stand and oppose this ugly debt ridden ideology of tertiary education fees.

      Michael Moore in “Where to Invade Next” showed how students in Slovakia (I think) effectively bought down the government when they sought to introduce fees.

      Imagine a protest nationwide, or why not internationally, where fees have been imposed. A call for just one day of protest where students stand and call for an end to student fees and student debt. One day to show our governments enough is enough. One day to show that students can call effective protest. One day to show that they could do more … and more!

      A day self organised as “Occupy” organised, a day that is utterly democratic, a day where students and those ridden with debt stand together on campus’s everywhere and call for and end of this imposition of debt for education. Where students deliver a clear message of No Debt for education to university administrators and to government.

      Just One Day …. or maybe two ….

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      MSM are bought by private vested interests and otherwise serve the present government or both. Sadly most do as an alternative use Twitter, Facebook and other means to “stay informed”, but those channels are usually not much better, as most sites follow MSM reporting.

      We need guerilla news, guerilla reporting and frontline and coal face reporting, by laypeople that are not so much media, but who know what goes on and share it all.

  3. Mike in Auckland says:

    Thanks for presenting this here on TDB!

    It makes me sick just turning the TV on these days, ONE News is little different from TV3 News, and the radio, that is except RNZ, is even worse. Print media is dropping in standards as click bait is a priority now, and commercialisation sees to the rest of our MSM.

    When I watch the news on TV, which I still do rather often, I note how highly complex and important international affairs are covered within seconds or perhaps only a minute or so, when it is stuff like a terror attack.

    They drag it out a bit when it hits places in our “allied western countries”, but those bombs and other events going off elsewhere are hardly worth a mention.

    But NEVER do they miss the latest gossip about the Royals, about some celebs, and how excited many out there are about the new Pokemon Go game.

    Then they cannot miss what Donald Trump just tweeted and what Hillary tweeted back to him.

    Any person who considers that rubbish we get served 24/7 as being “news” or even “newsworthy”, they need a brain transplant right now.

    New Zealanders like to go on about priorities and the money spent internationally, e. g. the Taxpayer Union went on about aid to Indonesia, India and China recently, trying to make a point that we should rather look after our Pacific brothers and sisters.

    But who the hell does actually care about what goes on in PNG, in Irian Jaya, in the Solomons, in Vanuatu, in Tuvalu, even Samoa, Tonga, French Polynesia, all most people learn about those places is what holiday resort offering western comforts and entertainment is cheap enough to “deserve” a consideration when planning the next holiday.

    I know hardly any New Zealander that knows much about their so-called “back yard” or who would even care about it, that is apart from the minority of activists and the few who care reading and hearing about it.

    It is shameful how most New Zealanders neglect their own direct neighbours, and rather look at the US and UK for orientation.

Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog,