Turnbull 'regrets' Nauru banning ABC as media boycott grows


Australia’s parliamentary press gallery and a newspaper in Vanuatu have vowed to boycott the event unless the ABC is allowed to attend.

Malcolm Turnbull’s trip to Nauru in September for an important meeting of Pacific island leaders may receive only limited coverage from the Australian media, after the island nation banned the ABC. 

Australian broadcasters and a Vanuatu newspaper are threatening to boycott the forum in solidarity with the ABC, which Nauru says was banned for "biased" reporting on the island’s controversial refugee camps, which it hosts on behalf of Australia. 

The prime minister said he was disappointed by the decision to refuse the broadcaster visas, but confirmed he would not cancel the trip. 

"We obviously support press freedom, naturally, and we regret that the ABC has not been given a visa - but that is a matter for Nauru," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday. 

Asked if he would raise the issue with Nauru's leader, Mr Turnbull said he would not engage in "megaphone diplomacy" through the media. 

Canberra press gallery to boycott crucial forum 

Australia’s major broadcasters in Parliament House have agreed to boycott the Pacific Islands Forum unless the host nation reverses its strict ban on the ABC. 

The press gallery planned to send a small “pool” of three – one reporter, one camera operator and one photographer – to cover the September meeting of Pacific island leaders, which Mr Turnbull will also attend. 

Content pools are common for prime ministerial trips overseas, and allow the many broadcasters in Parliament House to access the shared content. 

Nauru’s decision to ban the ABC, which planned to contribute one of the staff, has now triggered a broader boycott. 

Press gallery president David Crowe said the ban was an “outrageous restriction on press freedom”. 

The press gallery will no longer send the pool and will not swap out the ABC staff member in a bid to send a message to the government of Nauru that it cannot pick and choose broadcasters. 

The Vanuatu Daily Post said it would also join the boycott. 

"We were offered a spot. We will not be accepting," its media director Dan McGarry tweeted.

"All of us or none of us."

File image of Nauru's President Baron Divavesi Waqa in Australia.
Nauru has accused the ABC of being disrespectful towards its president, Baron Waqa.

The Pacific Islands Forum is an important meeting of Pacific states, including many of strategic interest to Australia. 

The Australian government has recently ramped up its diplomatic efforts in the region, at least partly to counter growing Chinese influence.

Australia recently intervened to build a data cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, partly funded from the aid budget, to prevent the contract falling to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. 

Nauru said its decision was 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”. 

"No representative from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be granted a visa to enter Nauru under any circumstances," it said in a statement on Monday.

ABC vows to fight decision, while Nauru hits back  

ABC news director Gaven Morris said Nauru "should not be allowed to dictate who fills the positions in an Australian media pool".

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

"It can hardly claim it is 'welcoming the media' if it dictates who that media will be and bans Australia's public broadcaster."

Director of News Gaven Morris is seen speaking during the ABC Annual Public Meeting in Ultimo, Sydney, Friday, February 9, 2018.
Director of News Gaven Morris is seen speaking during the ABC Annual Public Meeting in Ultimo, Sydney, Friday, February 9, 2018.

Nauru's government put out a second official statement, accusing the ABC of being "arrogant" and "disrespectful". 

"We remind the ABC that we – like Australia – have every right to refuse a visa to any person or organisation that we believe is not of good character, and that entry into our country is a privilege not a right," the statement read. 

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Nauru's decision was "regrettable".

"However it is the sovereign right of every country to decide who enters its borders," a DFAT spokesperson said.

Amnesty International said the ban was a "brazen" attempt to suppress coverage of the treatment of asylum seekers in the Australian-funded offshore processing centre.

"Hosting a pan-regional event like the Pacific Islands Forum comes with the responsibility of opening yourself up to the region's media," said Amnesty International global operations director Minar Pimple.

The forum will be held on the tiny Micronesian island state in the central Pacific from September 1 to 9.

Representatives from 30 countries, including 18 forum nation members, will be attending.

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