'Outrageous': Nauru bans ABC from summit

The ABC has been banned from attending the Pacific Islands Forum over its past reporting.

The President of Nauru, Baron Waqa.

The President of Nauru, Baron Waqa. Source: AAP

Nauru has banned the ABC from attending the Pacific Islands Forum over its "blatant interference" and "lack of respect", and warned other media outlets about how they cover the event.

In a statement released on Monday, the Nauru government laid down the law for international journalists hoping to report on the summit, set to take place in September.

Malcolm Turnbull speaks to Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill 2017 Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa.
Malcolm Turnbull and PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill at the 2017 Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa. Source: AAP

"We recognise that media from Australia have a unique interest in Nauru due to our partnership with Australia as part of its border security operations," it said, referring to the offshore processing centre on the island.

The statement then outlines visa specifications before saying "it should be noted that no representative from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be granted a visa to enter Nauru".

'Blatant interference'

The Nauru government claims the decision is due to the ABC's "blatant interference in Nauru's domestic politics prior to the 2016 election, harassment of and lack of respect towards our president in Australia, false and defamatory allegations against members of our government, and continued biased and false reporting about our country".

Journalists from other outlets were warned to "not engage in activities that cause or encourage disruption or civil unrest".

Director of News, Analysis and Investigations at ABC Gaven Morris said "the ABC vigorously defends our role in doing independent reporting on our region".

He said the Nauru government "should not be allowed to dictate who fills the positions in an Australian media pool. It can hardly claim it is 'welcoming the media' if it dictates who that media will be and bans Australia's public broadcaster".

"The ABC does not intend to vacate our position in the media pool covering the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru."

The summit is an annual meeting of leaders from around the region. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attended the 2017 meeting in Samoa and has been invited to the 2018 meeting in Nauru.

SBS News contacted the office of the Prime Minister about the ABC ban but did not receive a reply.

Industry, advocates react

The statement has prompted harsh words from media and refugee advocacy groups.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said he hoped for a quick response from the Australian government.

"We would expect the Australian government would make the strongest possible complaint to ensure that Australian journalists from any media organisation are able to cover the forum," he said.

Director of Human Rights Watch in Australia Elaine Pearson told SBS News the announcement was "outrageous".

"The Nauru government should understand that a free press and freedom of speech is a vital part of any functioning democracy," she said. 

The Government of Nauru has blocked the medical evacuation of a refugee needing urgent treatment for depression and trauma-related condition.
The Government of Nauru has blocked the medical evacuation of a refugee needing urgent treatment for depression and trauma-related condition. Source: AAP

"The Pacific Islands Forum could have been an opportunity for Nauru to shine, instead it's showing the Nauru government's true slide into authoritarianism and lack of tolerance for criticism.

"The very fact that Nauru hosts an offshore processing centre funded by Australia, of course, attracts interest from international journalists – but trying to repress the truth about what it is like for refugees will not deflect attention from this issue."

'Pattern of censorship'

Spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition Ian Rintoul said he was unsurprised by Monday's statement.

"Nauru has gone to great lengths and is desperate to prevent any media scrutiny not only of refugees on Nauru but of government operations," he said.

"There is a pattern of press censorship and suppression [locally] ... Nauru has [previously] imposed an $8,000 up-front fee on media visas to the country. Not only is the cost is prohibitive; media visas are rarely approved and costs are not refundable," he claimed.

"Notoriously the only Australian media representatives to get approval to enter to Nauru have been those considered sympathetic to the Nauru and Australian governments."

The Refugee Action Coalition says that 1,600 refugees, including about 140 children, remain on Nauru and Manus.

The offshore policy is designed to deter people embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have criticised the camps' conditions and long detention periods.

4 min read
Published 2 July 2018 at 6:47pm
By Nick Baker