How to turn a non-event during an APEC junket-trip into a front page story in PNG

World Leaders do not usually run front page headlines in their home countries based on informal chats. Same can’t be said for PNG’s leader unfortunately. Following his informal chat with Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, details of the brief encounter were released to the press and made Front Page headlines on PNG’s two dailies on the same day.

Mark Zuckerberg probably doesn’t know where Papua New Guinea is. If he does, he probably has been told by his engineers that its a nation obsessed with Facebook Basics, commonly referred to in PNG as “free mode”.

And so it may be to Zuckerberg’s bewilderment that on the morning of Monday 22nd of November, Papua New Guineans woke up to the news that their Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had confronted Zuckerberg about the ‘disruption’ Facebook was causing to PNG.

Thankfully it wasn’t one of confrontations that typically occur in the highlands of PNG. Nonetheless, it did cause a stir amongst PNG’s legions of keyboard warriors.

Many of course riddiculed their Prime Minister and were wondering why he was poking his nose into Zuckerberg’s business.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, PNG’s press could have misinterpreted the context within which the word “disruption” was used. He could have meant disruption as in the “technological disruption” is driving innovation in business and is what Facebook has done to media.

In any case lets assume that the press is right and that was what was said.

So was the PNG public right to riddicule their PM?

Well, yes and no!

A Twitter Search of Zuckerberg at APEC will bring up images of New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key and Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau posting about meeting Zuckerberg at the APEC Summit in Peru in much the same way as PNG’s O’Neill had.

Canadian and New Zealand papers though didn’t run front page stories with details of the meetings.

O’Neill’s communications team obviously made a blunder in communicating what is by convention an off the record conversation.

The PNG public therefore were quite right in riddiculing a failed attempt at scoring cheap political points.

However the public, just like the media failed miserably to recognize that they were taken for a ride.

Media in the Post-Brexit, Post-US Elections, Post-Truth World.

Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016 is Post-Truth. Post Truth refers to communications of messages that feel like they are true but are contestable.

In the context of the O’Neill meets Zuckerberg story — there is only one truth available to the public in PNG and that is — O’Neill meets Zuckerberg.

Everything else is speculation.

What is also true is that the media and public in PNG have been distracted by their Prime Minister’s insignificant “selfie moments” not just at the APEC in Lima but also last year at the APEC Summit in Manila (Remember the photo with Obama? Looks similar aye…)

The reason the PNG press and gullible public are being served these “selfie moments” is that despite attendance of the PM and his PNG delegations, the reality that APEC summits are not deliverying investment dividends to PNG.

The O’Neill government has invested Billions in preparation for the 2018 APEC Summit in PNG. The government has been trying to manage public opinion that is increasingly against the hosting of APEC.

The government is also trying to manage the opinion of a public that is already switched on towards elections in 2017.

For a largely illiterate public, O’Neill’s ‘self-moments’ from APEC may influence positive perceptions towards the cause of the government.

And in a post-truth, “trumpism” world, the truth is no longer the standard upon which people make judgements. Emotions and aspirations as well as values and beliefs get reinforced by imagery and rhetoric that may be contestable.

In terms of APEC, the promises being made to Papua New Guineans relate to economic benefits that flow from hosting the APEC in 2018.

Currently, there is no available data directly corelating PNG’s participation at APEC Summits with foreign direct investment.

So far, no major PNG-related deal been announced at Lima. This is the story from the Lima junket-trip that the media and the public have missed.

The photos that are missing from APEC in Lima are those of the Prime Minister of PNG meeting business leaders and making announcements about agreed or potential investments in PNG while making a toast with Pisco Sour.