Papua New Guinea’s Grand Chief and legendary leader, Sir Michael Somare, has just turned 70 and is showing no signs of slowing down. In 1976, when I was an executive in the National Broadcasting Commission, and despite a personal admiration for Sir Michael that continues to this day, I had a major fight with him which convinced me my time in PNG had passed and led to my departure after over 13 years.
The dispute surrounded my efforts – along with Phil Charley – to introduce advertising on the National Broadcasting Commission. Despite the NBC Act allowing advertising and the organisation’s parlous financial state commending this as a good revenue option, Sir Michael vehemently opposed the move. But, on this issue, he lacked the numbers in the House of Assembly and a Bill to amend the Act was defeated on the floor of Parliament. Within days, commercial advertising began on the NBC.
A bit over a year later, opening some much-awaited mail in Male, the capital of the remote Maldive Islands, you can imagine my surprise when a silver medal with a riband in the PNG colours tumbled on to my desk from a beaten up brown manilla envelope. It was an Independence Medal accompanied by a slightly torn and somewhat soiled citation – the whole package having been mistakenly routed through Mali in central Africa. And, yes, after my stormy departure from PNG, it did make things OK.