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Address to Papua New Guinea press club

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r u o 4 7 w u v e m j j e i I T o j

No. Date


Attached is the address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Bill Hayden, MP, to the Papua New Guinea National Press Club in Port Moresby on 7 November 1985.

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Your invitation to me to speak at your newly-formed Press Club is an honor and an opportunity and I thank you on both counts. As I look around me, I take great pleasure in observing an institution which has the potential to make a significant contribution to the cohesiveness and progress of this young nation. But I also observe that some things are the same the whole world over. Here I stand — as in press clubs back home — a politician invited to make a speech. There you are, waiting for me to finish the speech so that you ask me about the issues which (I suspect) I would wish you would forget about altogether.

My interest in the developing world (and Papua New Guinea in particular) is a long-standing one. It developed during my time as a member of the Parliamentary Opposition through the 1960s. Indeed, one of my proudest memories is of being here with Gough Whitlam in January 1970. It will be remembered that — almost with one speech:

to the Mataungan Association — Gough altered the scope and timing of the decolonisation process here.

My interest in the media is about as old. I'm not one of those politicians who fancy themselves as experts on the media, simply because they spend so much time watching the media watching them. But I do recognise the media as an unalterable fact of public life. However uncomfortable they can be — however much a downright nuisance

they can be — the media are an essential element in the way a community organises itself. For my part, I will always be grateful to the media for teaching me a primary lesson about public life: that a thick skin is indeed a gift from the gods. This is not an entirely frivolous remark. On this special occasion, I would like to offer some observations about the role of the media in the lives of developing nations.

In Australia, the media have a power and influence which (even if we don't find it always comfortable) at least we always respect — though it has to be said that this status was won only after a lot of effort and pain. The media perceive themselves as having a good,

productive and beneficial role in the life of the nation and, by and large, this is well-deserved. They are able to call on the most advanced technological resources to be the watchdog of the community, shaping community attitudes and promoting the community's interests.

They hold this great power and responsibility although they are not elected to exercise it and have not been given the express mandate to do so by those they claim to serve. Despite this, it is a belief firmly embedded in Australian conceptions of such notions as liberty and a just, pluralistic society that an independent press, unfettered by censors or other state apparatus, is a fundamental requirement for a healthy democratic society. .

This is not to say that we regard the media as above the law. Like all other democracies, Australia has laws which protect the individual citizen from excesses by the media. We have laws which regulate the ownership of media resources. Australia is one of those countries which uses the D-notice or similar mechanism which (in a self-

regulatory system) discourages publication of matters considered to endanger national security.

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But, though these limitations on the media exist and are used in Australia in the law or by custom, they are usually handled with caution and even reluctance. The Australian attitude to the media is guided by these principles: freedom of speech; independence of

the media; balance and fairness in the way the media supply information.

Having said all that, criticisms are made about the media which I don't think the media quite understand. By that I don't mean the reaction caused in other countries by a certain robustness with which Australian journalists go about their business and for which I'm often taken to task by people from other countries who don't understand

this unique Australian phenomenon.If you watch the rather uninhited game of Australian Rules football, you will discover from where our journalists derive their style, either by playing the game hard in the ruck or covering it.

I don't mean the criticism which comes from the kind of society which does not share our faith in the ultimate utility and necessity of a free media. The criticism I have in mind comes from developing countries who are concerned by the damage that can be caused by the way the Western media often interpret and report on the condition and problems of the Third World. The reaction by some of our media to this criticism seems to be that it is no more than an updated version of the cynical old Peronist slogan: "Silence is health!" But I think they are missing an important point which, by coincidence, began to be debated in the United Nations just as Papua New Guinea joined the community of independent nations 10 years ago.

In countries like Australia, we applaud the idea of the media scrutinising problems, judging government choices and taking stands on issues. In many Third World nations whose social and political structures are young and fragile, on the other hand, such journalism would be considered divisive or even subversive because it lacks

context, complexity and (therefore) balance. The critics would say that it is a dangerous luxury because it accentuates the problems on which it reports.

Part of the reaction of the critics has been to try to organise what is called the New World Information and Communication Order. This is not a development that appeals to me, any more than its vaguely oppressive-sounding title. Conditions won't be improved by refusing observers the ability or the right to report them. Once the process starts of gagging the media, there's no easy way to end it.

I don't need to make out an argument for the media in company like this which could do it with much greater expertise than I have. I make the point because the establishment of a press club does tend to raise these great paradoxes for thoughtful journalists about the

role of the media in countries whose government can consider all social resources to be part of the development process and (by extension) the national interest.

Australian newspapers and radio and television news programs can be parochial and ethnocentric. They can have a short attention span when it comes to complex and unexciting matters such as the

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development of rural infrastructure, for instance, or socially-acceptable methods of health care at village level. But they are not malevolent or corrupt and megalomanic. They are not creatures of government and they won't look the other way on demand.

What does this mean for members of this new Press Club? Well, the fact that it has been started speaks for a pleasing maturity in the government-press relationship. The Club will provide a forum for the growth of professional skills. Local journalists can learn from and —

in turn — educate journalists from other countries. These foreign journalists will be better able to understand the social and political structures of this nation which is already a major influence in the Asian-Pacific region. As the new technology of the media grows in scope and sophistication and the media's ability to interpret this regional power increases accordingly, this Club will itself be an interesting centre of influence. I have no doubt that it will also be a point of contention from time to time. When the time comes, I enjoin all members to ponder all the ramifications of that law of nature which

appears inexorably to operate when the media get to work: That the act of observing an event can alter its very nature. It's a phenomenon with which journalism has had to grapple for hundreds of years.

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