TUMBY BAY - We humans tend to form many of our opinions based on what we read, hear and watch in the media. Sometimes we even adopt what we believe directly from the media, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Media owners and producers know this and tailor the information they disseminate accordingly.
And because the bottom line for most media outlets is the number of sales they make and the profit that generates, they tend to give us what we want.
Even non-profit outlets, including social media, tend to present material in line with what they think audiences want so they can maintain interest.
What this means is that most media, rather than being leaders in shaping ideas and opinion, are actually captives of their audience.
Conservative media caters for conservative consumers and progressive media caters for progressive consumers.
In between these extremes there are various views dependent upon what particular audiences think.
Media, in short, specialises in preaching to the converted.
Or, quite often, it tries to convert the audience on behalf of the special interests (like governments or advertisers) that provide it with influence or money.
This makes the problem of presenting a balanced and unbiased view particularly difficult. Even our public broadcasters struggle with this dilemma as they seek a middle road between many conflicting views and pressures.
So what exactly is it that the public craves in its media? The short answer is ‘a good story’. And very often ‘a good story’ for people is essentially negative.
Supporters love good news about their side; opponents are joyful about bad news about the other side.
Why do you think our media are full of stories about crime, accidents, dreadful diseases, political scandals and such awfulness? Because that’s what very many people prefer to read.
Audiences tend to find tedious anything that falls outside such subjects. Perhaps because so many people’s lives are less than perfect; they find comfort in hearing about lives that are even worse than their own.
At the same time, people are particularly sceptical about anything given a positive bias (‘spin’). Except where their sporting team won or the government gave them a tax break or a wantok scored big in the lottery.
Of course, governments and businesses seek to ensure good news about themselves makes it into the media. Partly this is because they like reading good news about themselves but often it is to hide bad news or distract readers from it.
In Papua New Guinea, reporting by the two major national newspapers has adopted a formula where, because of various motives, they will mostly give the government and business a big chunk of positive spin.
But there’s a downside. For every positive story they publish about the current government, full of spin and not addressing the real issues, they lose credibility with many readers.
People don’t want to hear about how well the government is performing, they want to hear how it is really performing. And reality for most people is what they are experiencing in their lives. Try to tell a poor man that he lives in the best country in the world.
This phenomenon of ‘bad news is good news’ is reflected in the way the Australian media reports on Papua New Guinea.
Australian audiences not only expect that stories coming out of Papua New Guinea will be bad but almost require them to be so before they will take any notice.
Stories about the appalling corruption and mismanagement of the O’Neill government feeds directly into this need. From the Australian media’s point of view, the excesses and stuff ups of the O’Neill government provides excellent copy.
If Papua New Guinea ever has an honest and progressive prime minister you can bet his or her coverage in the Australian media will be minimal.
The same dynamic also applies to international audiences. That’s why stories about sorcery, cannibalism, tribal warfare and the dangers of Papua New Guinea do so well. The only exception is the occasional story about some bizarre exotica generally involving photographs of semi-naked men in bilas and bare breasted women.
Some Papua New Guineans think that many Australians actually want Papua New Guinea to fail as a nation.
A few commentators in Papua New Guinea have recently expressed this view, notably Governor Gary Juffa of Oro Province. Before him politicians like Iambakey Okuk and even Michael Somare made similar comments.
Sadly however, as expressed so many times on PNG Attitude, most Australians, including its politicians, don’t care whether Papua New Guinea succeeds or fails. Strangely, as a nation sitting on its doorstep which is more and more beguiled by China, it is entirely irrelevant to them.
All this could make you very despondent, particularly if you live in Papua New Guinea, but don’t be. Negative media is also alive and well in Australia and around the world.
If you read newspapers, listen to radio, watch television or devour the internet, you’ll see news, and even hope, of failure.
The average Australian expects that as a nation in whatever endeavour we undertake, except perhaps sport, we will fail.
Failure is, after all, a lot more interesting than success. This why we are so fascinated with Donald Trump. He’s a failure waiting to happen and we’re enthralled.
Do Australians want Papua New Guinea to fail? Yes!
Do Australians want Australia to fail? Of course!