Leanne Jorari is a Papua New Guinean media and communications specialist, producer and writer, based in Port Moresby.
A former journalist and producer at PNG’s national broadcaster, EMTV, she is now a freelance writer for The Guardian‘s Pacific Project, which is supported by the Institute.
We caught up with Leanne to find out more about her work in the Pacific, PNG’s recent political turmoil and what’s in store in 2021.
You are a regular contributor for The Guardian’s Pacific Project. What impact do you think the project has made in the Pacific?
It’s made a huge impact, not only for the journalists involved but for The Guardian and for the Pacific as a whole. Pacific journos are given a platform to showcase their work, internationally, with a reach that we don’t have with our national media outlets. And The Guardian has a new group of diverse writers and voices contributing to the publication, adding the Pacific’s own brand of colour.
I am a firm advocate of Indigenous people creating their own narratives.
So, I am thankful to the Judith Neilson Institute and The Guardian for providing that platform. I haven’t been in the industry long enough to know if projects such as the Pacific Project have been done before, but judging from its welcome success in the region, I am sure it won’t be the last.
What are some of the key stories you’ve covered over the past year?
The first few stories I covered for The Guardian were pretty significant. They were about the historic Bougainville Referendum voting. I was privileged to travel to Buka and Bougainville at the start of the vote and witness it first-hand. When I returned to Port Moresby, I continued to follow their journey.
Another significant story from early 2020 was about PNG gold medalist and boxer Debbie Kaore, who survived through a brutal abuse by her partner, Murray Oa, which was captured on film and went viral on social media. She spoke up against her abuser and against gender-based violence in the country. It was very brave of her to do and I am honoured to have spoken to her about it.
There’s was plenty of turmoil in PNG at the end of 2020, with Prime Minister Marape struggling to hold the support of his own government. How do you see things playing out over the coming weeks and months?
They don’t call PNG the land of the unexpected for nothing. There’s almost always something happening in the shadows of Waigani (PNG’s political centre in Port Moresby). With that said, I see a déjà-vu of the events from 2011 when political players Belden Namah and Peter O’Neill forcefully removed Michael Somare from office.
All the people of Papua New Guinea want are basic services, tax cuts, an education system that works, jobs to be created for our recent university graduates, etc. Instead we have front row seats to a literal Game of Thrones.
What can Australian journalists do to better understand and report on PNG and the Pacific?
My advice would be to learn about the country and region you are reporting on. Learn the intricacies of the different cultures. Try to understand them and listen to the Indigenous people you are working with or interviewing.
Just because one has been to a country or province or district and met the people from there, it does not mean that one will get the same reception or reaction from another place they visit later.
It is not and will never be a one-size-fits-all experience.
One shouldn’t assume that Western approaches will automatically work in the region.
In fact, one should just refrain from assuming anything. Just be a sponge and soak up as much as you can and report on exactly what you see and hear.
Looking ahead, what do you think will be the key issues for PNG and the region over the next 12 months?
I believe the current political turmoil will continue to dominate the news cycle for the next few months. With the passing of the 2021 budget, the current state of our economy is another issue that will be discussed, especially since it was passed with the understanding that it will put us back on the ‘growth path’ and rebuild our living standards.
As for the region, our islands will bear the brunt of decisions made by developed countries, yet again. COVID-19, for example, has slowed our economies down to the point that it will take a miracle to resuscitate.
Climate change, another burden inflicted by developed countries, is an ongoing issue that will need to continuously be discussed.
The issue of referendums is on the table for both Bougainville and New Caledonia (the third for New Caledonia after the most recent one was rejected).