Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Welcome to the Bureau of Media and Communications

Hello, everyone! 

I’ve been fielding a question from a few people about my work, and I realised that I haven’t really told anyone what it is I’m doing here in Bougainville in any depth. So I decided to write a post about my office and the projects we’re currently working on. Sorry if this is boring to anyone who is completely uninterested in archives, but hey, at least my Mum will appreciate it.

The ABG Archives, where I work, is a part of the Bureau of Media and Communication (Media and Comms), which is an Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) bureau. Our office is 100m from the airport (which is little more than a shed) in a complex of low-lying buildings. Media and Comms has a focus on print, radio and web communication, as well as being the centre for the ABG Archives and the Bougainville Arts Federation, which is relatively new project that Annabel, another VSA volunteer, has been working on. Media and Comms produces the Bougainville Bulletin, an ABG newspaper published every two months and distributed throughout Bougainville by some particularly dedicated staff who take it in to even the most remote communities. We also run Radio Ples Lain, a mobile (as in moving, not cellular) radio station which is dedicated to bringing ABG news to all of Bougainville by broadcasting in the field. The Radio Ples Lain truck is able to broadcast its programmes up to 50km away, depending on the geography of the area, thereby communicating information to communities which do not receive radio or mobile coverage. The Radio Ples Lain staff also work with NBC (the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation) to provide Bougainville-based content for the NBC station. Media and Comms is also currently building the ABG website and Tanya, our incredibly talented website and audio-visual staff member, is responsible for sharing media online.

Ben, Radio Ples Lain presenter, outside the Media and Comms office.
 The ABG Archives office is a 4x8 metre room to the rear of the Media and Comms office, which houses three walls of floor-to-ceiling shelving for archived files and three desks (one of which is piled one metre high with extra files). My counterpart, Michael, and I work here. The purpose of the ABG Archives programme is to collect, manage and archive records created and received by the ABG, and to provide access to records and archives for ABG staff. My role as Records Management and Archives Assistant is to support Michael in his role as Archives Officer, to assist with the digitisation project and the promotion of the ABG divisional file classification, and to train ABG staff in records management procedures. The ABG Archives contains around 4000 records, mainly from 1990 – 2005, and includes highly important records from throughout the Bougainville Peace Process which are of significant cultural and historical value to Bougainville. In a somewhat sub-standard shed next to the Media and Comms office, thousands more old files await processing by Archives. The capacity to do so is extremely low, given that we lack the storage space and (wo)man power to efficiently process records. We are also slowly embarking upon a digitisation project. Again, until the ABG Archives Policy is approved by the government, we lack the finances and resources to scan archives efficiently and effectively.

In addition to our role in Archives, Michael and I are working with another person in our office, Moses, to coordinate some audience research commissioned by our office and carried out by the University of Goroka’s Centre for Social and Creative Media. The research will look in to the information and communication landscape in Bougainville including current knowledge, attitudes, misconceptions, risk perceptions and beliefs regarding the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) and referendum among key audience groups. Our role is limited to organising field researchers and assisting with logistical preparations, but it is pretty fantastic to be able to assist with such an important project. Perhaps as much as 90% of Bougainvilleans have access to mobile coverage, but access to more traditional new sources such as radio and newspapers is incredibly limited in rural areas. The communication landscape is fascinating in this respect; social media in PNG is booming, but the online presence of government bodies and other major organisations is limited. In this sense, as far as I have observed, there is a huge gap between the primary communication method of Bougainvilleans, and that of the government. However, this gap is closing quickly due to projects like the ABG website and social media presence.

Priscilla, the Media and Comms Corporate Services Assistant, and me.

While it sounds like I have a lot on my plate according to the above job descriptions, my day-to-day work life is somewhat more sedate. I wake up around 7:45am, have a cold shower, breakfast and coffee. I generally try to leave for work around 8:30am, with varying success. It takes me just five minutes to walk to work – with my laptop in my backpack and my umbrella arming me against the rain or the sun, I turn left out of my driveway and walk along the roadside, parallel to the airstrip. As I walk past the tyre workshop and the trade shops halfway down the road, I respond to a chorus of “Moning!” from the men who work there. As I arrive at the Media and Comms office I have a chat with my friend Priscilla, the administrator, for a while, as well as other workmates. Michael and I usually chat while working, and lately he’s been speaking to me only in Tok Pisin so I have to learn. Work is slow, as everything is done on Bougainville time which means two-hour long meetings are the norm, and everything is discussed at length. Lunch is at 12:00pm, and I often go in to town to do a vege shop at the market, or else I go home for the hour to eat there. We clock off at 4pm, although often the power will go out some time around 2:30pm and so I go home early and work from home.

Me and Michael sitting in the ABG Archives Office.

In sum, my job is fascinating, frustrating, difficult and enjoyable. I am really only just getting the hang of things after two months here, and have accepted that it will take a long time for anything to happen. In fact, 10 months in Bougainville seems like barely enough time to really do anything! The core aim of VSA is ‘capacity building’, which means that when I leave here, Michael will hopefully have gained skills and knowledge as Archives Officer and therefore the capacity of the ABG Archives Office will increase. It feels a bit daunting to be faced with this challenge – as a young Development Studies and Maori Resource Management graduate with no experience in records management, I feel somewhat under-qualified to fulfill those expectations. However, I do have basic skills to contribute; computer literacy, time management, research skills, development knowledge and organisational skills. I remind myself that I am not a white savior flown in to ‘do’ development ‘on’ Bougainville; rather, I am here as a student. As I learn and build relationships, I will hopefully also bring something different to the table that may be useful. It is all about relationships, humility and reciprocity; this is Bougainville, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - have been wondering exactly what your role is in Bougainville. It sounds like an exciting, challenging and rewarding place to work. Your reflections on your experience are really inspiring. Look forward to hearing more :)