In This Edition: Closer To Home – Papua New Guinea
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Sludge Report #90
Closer To Home – Papua New Guinea
As Foreign Minister Phil Goff sounds off about the handing over of European war criminal Slobodan Milosevic on the TV news tonight, please spare a thought for a news event of considerable more import, far closer to home.
Today over the email Sludge received the following missive from Port Moresby…
“You may have seen and heard from media, but here are the facts on the situation at the moment in PNG. Bro. our war becomes more complicated as things began to unfold to us . We are not just fighting the IMF..World Bank, it is now apparent that we are also fighting our own government who has willingly availed itself to be used by these vampires to carry out their evils. Anyway, the prime minister stepped out and received the petition from the students but with hidden motives which none of us students knew.
Upon receiving our petition he ordered a shoot-out at around 3am in the early hours of the morning today (26/06/2001). Beginning around that early hours of the morning till the dawn of the day (~5hrs) there was a confrontation between students and 60 fully armed policemen sponsored by the government and the World Bank who had flown in from Mt Hagen (one of the highlands provinces). Two students died instantly and several others were in critical conditions. A mother and her child were also shot dead and many more who are non-students but had taken part in the demonstration were also reported dead but we do not confirm it simply because police are everywhere at the moment shooting at anybody moving about.
Bro. Like I said media may report their views but this is the first hand information I'm sending you. OUR FIGHT IS NOT OVER!! We planned a dignified burial on those students who died from this protest. They died a hero and their names will surely go down in the history of our country and their memories will linger. Tomorrow (27/06/2001) will be the mourning day.
The economic activity today comes to a standstill. No cars moving around. As a result of the confrontation students burnt down a restaurant that was partly owned by the prime minister. Several government vehicles were also burnt down by the students and the general public. Bro. it's the entire population against the government and the IMF..WB. Media may have their own story to tell and as usual may spread their propaganda against us, but bro. this is what's happening right here in PNG.”
When it comes to foreign policy in relation to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand has long had something of a blind spot.
For nearly a decade the civil war in Bougainville was officially designated “an internal matter” for Papua New Guinea, and about which the New Zealand government would not officially say boo.
Why? Because PNG has long been in essence an Australian satellite state and the recipient of large amounts of Australian military assistance. The war in Bougainville was in largely in defence of Australian economic interests. And PNG, due to its proximity to Indonesia, and its mineral wealth, has always been a subject about which the Australian’s have been very sensitive.
New Zealand meanwhile long been anxious not to upset the Australians, except where it cannot be avoided.
The blind spot the New Zealand media display towards Papua New Guinea however is far harder to fathom. Sludge can only assume that this is a result of a combination of a) ignorance, b)small budgets, c)lack of footage and d)sheer laziness.
And so today we have a situation in which the highly predictable fate of a war criminal 12,000 miles away takes precedence in the New Zealand news media, over what looks a little like the beginnings of a civil war on our doorstep.
When a white anti-capitalist protestor in Sweden is shot and injured by police in Sweden it becomes the lead news item on CNN and the BBC, and is reported prominently in NZ media.
But when four black student protestors in Papua New Guinea are shot and killed it becomes a down-page item on page three of the Dominion and is hardly reported at all on TV. Expressed this way, the attitude of the media and politicians alike to PNG can be seen as racist.
To its partial credit Radio New Zealand did report the shootings as the lead item in its midday news bulletin on Wednesday, but since then, hardly a skerrick. Why were the students protesting? What has happened since?
And so you the news consumer don’t know the answers to these questions, because we, the media haven’t told you.
Remarkably in terms of news value, the story of what has been going on in Papua New Guinea in the past few days, has intense resonance, and widespread implications not only for the region, but for the whole world.
The PNG situation is a mirror of several recent protests in South America, Turkey and elsewhere. It is symptomatic of the ideological imposition of value systems on developing nations which most of the time developed nations themselves cannot stomach.
The story of what has happened in PNG in the past few days is so familiar.
The IMF and World Bank convince an elected government to pursue policies they have no electoral mandate to pursue, like the sale of state assets or the slashing of welfare, health and education budgets. The public rise, unsurprisingly, in opposition to this, and a brutal crack-down is ordered.
In the wake of the recent events in PNG the Australian PM has been quoted standing behind and supporting the PNG Prime Minister and his plans to privatise the state bank and institute widespread unpopular reforms. Would John Howard try to foist such policies on his own people? Would he do so in the face of violent protests in which his police forces had brutally killed four civilians\
In reality not only are we ignoring the plight of our neighbours the Papua New Guineans, but in fact we are contributing to their misery. While we New Zealand may be marginally better than the Australian’s in this regard, New Zealand also contributes by not speaking out against the violence and the oppression.
Many NZers probably thought that this sort of thing is usually confined to faraway places like South America and Turkey. But no it isn’t. It is happening right here, on our very door step. As the saying goes, “there but for the grace of God”.
In the circumstances one might have thought this would be grist to the media mill.
Anti©opyright Sludge 2001