media2The traditional method of broadcasting information in PNG has been the garamut drum. Modern media have much the same advantages and disadvantages.

The beat of a drum can travel for miles and be interpreted by all who know the code. Drums can convey quite detailed messages. Apart from calling someone by pre-arranged signal, drums can summon people to gather together or can announce a death. The beat of a drum can act as a guide if someone is lost in the bush. A caller in a distant village can announce his presence by the use of his own particular call sign – a pattern of drumbeats. Drums can also ward off evil spirits.

Messages on the modern mass media can also travel for miles and be interpreted by all who know the code. Quite detailed messages can be conveyed and announcing a death is not a problem. A convincing programme may even counteract evil spirits. Howevermedia the expansion of both print and the electronic media into traditional societies brings complicated problems in its train.

First there is the problem of access, which is not just about having the money to buy a daily newspaper, a radio and its batteries, or a television set, although getting hold of any of these is impossible for many in PNG. Access is also about provision: are the newspapers and books available? Is the radio audible? Is there an electricity supply to run the television? For many meida1areas in PNG the answer to all these questions is ‘no’.

Access also means having access to the code: that is, understanding the language which the message is using and the cultural context to which it refers. In the case of print, this requires literacy in either English or Tok Pisin, the two lingua franca of PNG. In the case of radio, knowledge of one of these languages is still likely to be necessary, as even at its best NBC never managed to broadcast in more than one or two local languages in any area. Other stations never even tried. But it is in relation to the visual media of television and video that there is the most glaring discrepancy between the cultural context of programmes and audience. This is a problem that has not been solved anywhere in the developing world.