Each year on May 5th, Divine Word University recognises the role of media freedom and the challenging work of journalists in maintaining the 4th estate. While the day, internationally, falls on 3rd May each year, DWU does their university event on the 5th. This year’s international Media Freedom Day theme was: Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights.
Focussing on the freedom of expression as key driver for all other human rights, this year’s theme is more relevant to the role of the media, particularly for a thriving democracy such as Papua New Guinea. Even more so, this year the spotlight be shone on the way the government of Papua New Guinea is embarking on steps to create legislation on media. Some, such as one of PNG’s more prominent journalist Mr. Scott Waide, have suggested the proposed legislation could lead to control on the PNG media. Even the Transparency International PNG called for more wider consultation from the public regarding this proposed legislation
On Friday 5th May, 2023, the Department of Communication Arts in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS), hosted the 2023 Media Freedom Day at its Madang campus. Its own President Fr. Philip Gibbs kicked off proceedings with a short and powerful speech. I really liked what he said about freedom of expression and how the DWU environment provides the room for students to be able to freely express themselves. He also pointed to the DWU Charter, written by the founders of the University 46 years ago, which upheld the key characteristic of authentic freedom.
The Transparency International PNG had its Deputy Director of Communications, Ms. Yvonne Ngutlick talk about the role of the community organisation and its work in PNG. She said that events such as the Media Freedom Day should be used by the communities and the world to remind the Government of their commitments to freedom of the media and its role as the 4th estate.
She said: “In democratic countries like our country, the media becomes a tool for accountability. In Papua New Guinea, where Governments may be lacking or weak, the media’s work becomes crucial because it helps us hold our Government or people in power accountable for the decisions that they make.”
One of PNG’s most prominent and well known journalists, Mr. Scott Waide was also present on the day. Having been a graduate of this university, he has been invited to speak to DWU students in different faculties numerous times. During the Media Freedom Day, he spoke about the role of the media and the need for citizens to act upon information they received from the work of the media.
“if the media has done its job and everything it is supposed to do and if the people who receive this information, do not act on it, then we fail as a country. The media can do its job but if people don’t take this information that is given to them…the education that is given to them and act on it, meaning exercising your rights at the polls or speaking out when its needed, then the media is really ineffective in a democracy.
This year, the Divine Word University was excited to have the presence of the United Nations Resident Coordinator to PNG, His Excellency Richard Stephen Howard Junior to address the DWU Community at the Madang campus. He addressed staff, students, invited guests and visitors at the gathering citing the theme. I particularly liked his take on society having a strong foundation that would give rise to the freedom of expression
He said: “Now several things are needed to be in place to make sure we do have freedom of expression. In any society we need a legal and regulatory environment that allows for open, pluralistic media sector to emerge. So we need the right policies, regulations in place. We need to make sure that once they are in place..they stay in place.
“We need the political will to support this sector so we need to make sure we elect the right kind of leaders that are going to continue to protect our right to speak freely. Then we need the literacy skills among consumers of knowledge,” he said.
After the speeches, the three guests we invited to form a panel of experts and take questions from the audience. This was a fulfilling and enlightening part as the audience got to listen to various perspectives, experiences and views on topics relating to the theme and journalism in general.
The event ended at 12.30pm and then the guests were given a tour of the Communication Arts rooms/spaces in the faculty building.