Pacific Media Centre Pacific Media Watch Pacific Journalism Review Asia Pacific Report

Social media activism in PNG plays role in political upheaval

Papua New Guinea's social media activism ... a new version of the "Arab Spring"?

Bob Howarth, Pacific Media Centre

5 August, 2011

New acting PM Peter O'Neill ... illegal political process? Photo: PNG govtLaura Stewart, Michael Dwyer and Stephanie Lagerstedt

Social media-driven political activism reached its peak in the Pacific this week, with the controversial appointment of a new Prime Minister in Papua New Guinea sparking online debate.

Former Treasurer Peter O'Neil was elected Prime Minister, to replace Sir Michael Somare who is recovering following heart surgery in April in Singapore.

O'Neil defeated acting Prime Minister Sam Abul 70 votes to 24. Abul is nowchallenging the validity of O’Neil’s appointment in court.

Hours before international media caught onto this major PNG event, Facebook pages such as Sharp Talk, Nau FM and NBC News PNG became a highly active discussion forums.

Members of these groups, some of who were journalists, posted instant updates and discussed the social, political and economic ramifications of the political crisis.

One member was a particularly active participant on the NAU FM  page, updating members on the events following O'Neil's appointment.

Election 'illegal'
“Abul in a press conference this afternoon at Parliament says the election of the PM is illegal and this issue will now go to court, he is also adamant that there is NO VACANCY in the PM's office and his troops are still in control.......Parliament is to resume in minutes,” she said.

A Sharp Talk page member explained how O'Neil's appointment was "illegal".

“If O'Neal is PM-elect and not acting, then this act of Parliament is illegal. Because first an Acting Prime Minister was in place - meaning that there was no rush to have the PM since normal government business was not in jeopardy. Then the Electoral Commission should have called for byelections in the former prime minister’s electorate,” he said

Another member on the NAU FM page discussed the financial impact of O'Neil's appointment.

“This turn of events is neither a victory for the country nor the small people... It is going to be a nightmare courtesy of PNG politics,” he said.

“One thing PNG politicians know how to do very well is finding [sic] loopholes within the constitution to challenge constitutional procedures.”

“It is only the beginning worse is yet to come at the expense of tax payers and rest assured it has started.”

Arab Spring
Earlier this year, protesters used social media to rally against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime as part of the so-called Arab Spring upheavals in the Middle East.

Twitter and Facebook raised awareness about Gadaffi's actions, which were the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against protestors. One Facebook protest page attracted more than 10,000 members.

The arrival of 3G communications in Papua New Guinea prompted 48,000 citizens to join Facebook.

Social media has provided the 6.4 million population an effective forum to discuss political matters in the face of poor transport links and road infrastructure, with up to 2000 Papua New Guineans joining Facebook every two weeks.

Member of Parliament PNG Sam Basil also uses Facebook extensively to communicate with the public.

Twitter has also taken off, particularly in the last two years. Journalists broke and discussed Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare's impending retirement last month on Twitter before any formal news article appeared online.

Sir Michael led his country to independence in 1975, and had been called “father of the nation.”

Social Media is popular in other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly Indonesia, which is the world's second-largest Facebook market and third-largest twitter market.

Further, with only 20 percent of Indonesians currently connected to the internet, and RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, studying the market, the number of users is expected to reach 94 million by 2015.

Laura Stewart, Michael Dwyer and Stephanie Lagerstedt are student journalists at Bond University on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Web monitoring student matrix

About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Bob Howarth

Author, media consultant

Bob Howarth has been a working journalist for 44 years in Australia, London, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Centre

PMC newsdesk

The Pacific Media Centre - TE AMOKURA - at AUT University has a strategic focus on Māori, Pasifika and ethnic diversity media and community development.


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