How the world’s media reported Papua New Guinea’s change of Prime Minister


For the first time since APEC 2018, the eyes of the world’s media have been on Papua New Guinea, this time reporting on the resignation of Peter O’Neill and the emergence of new Prime Minister, James Marape. Business Advantage PNG examines how the political transition was reported internationally.

News of the political changes in PNG has gone global.

It would be fair to observe that the international media struggled to cover the biggest political story in PNG in almost eight years.

Due to newsroom cuts across the mainstream media in recent years, the permanent international press presence in PNG is paper-thin, leaving the ABC’s energetic PNG correspondent Natalie Whiting to do the leg-work locally—quite literally in one instance:

Social media

A lack of a PNG-based reporter meant most of the international media had to rely on secondhand accounts and opinions. Fortunately, social media came to their rescue.

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EMTV live streamed Peter O’Neill’s resignation to Parliament on Facebook  Credit: EMTV

With live streaming on Facebook, courtesy of EMTV and PNG Loop, and plenty of updates appearing on both Facebook and Twitter, journalists and commentators outside PNG were able to follow events closely, first as the Opposition numbers swelled, then as MPs moved to and fro between the Crown, Laguna and Grand Papua hotels, then as Peter O’Neill resigned and, finally, as James Marape was elected.

Without local contacts, however, international journalists had to get their expert commentary wherever and however they could find it.

Reuters, reporting from Sydney, relied mostly on anonymous sources such as ‘a senior U.S. government source,’ ‘one MP … requesting anonymity’ and ‘a senior British diplomatic source.’

Others, such as Australia’s Fairfax (now Nine) group, The Guardian and the widely-syndicated Agence France Presse, relied on experienced PNG-watchers such as the Lowy Institute’s Shane McLeod and Jonathan Pryke, economist Paul Flanagan, Deakin University academic Jonathan Ritchie and Business Advantage PNG‘s Andrew Wilkins.

James Who?

Almost no-one predicted the ascension of James Marape. At a Lowy Institute event in Melbourne, Australia, held the night before Marape was elected, three of the Pacific’s most experienced broadcasters point blank refused to speculate on the likely result.

At SBS, Stefan Armbruster asked the big question everyone outside PNG wanted to know: ‘Who is James Marape, 8th PM of PNG?’ Armbruster supplied his own answer:

‘Mr Marape is a leader of the Huli people—one of the largest tribes in the country—and he defines his life by their ancient customary code.

‘Trust and loyalty are central to Huli culture in the turbulent PNG highlands and it was those factors he cited when resigning as finance minister from his predecessor Peter O’Neill’s government in April.’

‘Papua New Guinea’s new Prime Minister is an odd mix: a humble Christian and a political heavyweight in a cut-throat parliament,’ wrote Radio New Zealand’s experienced Pacific journalist Johnny Blades.

‘He is personable, has significant mana, and shares genuine friendships across the chamber.’

Thanks to Reuters, we also know the new PM likes to play a round at the Royal Port Moresby Golf Club on Thursdays.


Several media outlets presented the change of PM in a geopolitical context.

Calling the new PM a ‘wildcard,’ Reuters suggested that Marape would ‘reset how the archipelago conducts business and diplomacy amid a strategic battle between China and the United States for influence in the Pacific.’

‘Australia may have reason to miss Mr O’Neill,’ observed The Economist. ‘Both China and America have been trying to court favour there to strengthen their influence in a region of strategic importance.

‘But Mr O’Neill’s departure will be little mourned at home.’


Meanwhile, the financial press tended to focus on the implications for the gas sector, and the Papua LNG project in particular.

The Australian Financial Review, which had previously blamed Peter O’Neill’s resignation partly on the UBS loan affair, warned its readers ‘Gas sector on tenterhooks as power changes hands in PNG‘.

In spite of Marape’s reassurances to media locally that he wasn’t about to tear-up legal contracts, The Wall Street Journal trumpeted ‘Big Exxon-Total Gas Project Jolted by Papua New Guinea Leadership Change.’

Agence France Presse suggested the Papua LNG deal was ‘in doubt’:

‘Papua New Guinea’s embattled prime minister stepped down on Wednesday, capping a months-long political crisis and calling a multi-billion-dollar French and US-backed gas deal into question.’

Meanwhile, in London, the Financial Times suggested ‘ExxonMobil Corp and Total SA have become embroiled in a political crisis in Papua New Guinea,’ quoting a forecast by Wood Mackenzie’s David Low that ‘the Prime Minister’s resignation would delay first gas from the LNG projects by as much as two years, to beyond 2025.’

Finally, one international media outlet was very excited about Marape’s election: the Seventh day Adventist global news service, which informed its readers that PNG’s new PM was ‘elder of Korobosea Seventh-day Adventist Church and attended Kabiufa Adventist Secondary School in the Eastern Highlands Province.’



  1. Angalio ludin says

    Restricting of media firms reporting the progress of any one government of a country should not be entertain.The World needs fresh and live broadcast and don’t need to base on third party’s feed offs to public ears#

  2. Sam Tonny says

    It is great at least PNG news is spread all across the world. Now the world can know PNG

  3. Henol Omenefa says

    Brief but enough to satisfy my curiosity

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