MONG PALATINO | Global Voices | Asia Pacific Report
SYDNEY - Protests have been gathering force over the Nauru government’s ban on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from entering the country to cover the Pacific Islands forum leaders’ summit in September.
Nauru has accused Australia’s public broadcaster of biased and false reporting.
The summit is an annual gathering of Oceania’s heads of state, where important matters concerning the region are addressed.
On 2 July, the Nauru government issued a statement restricting the number of people who can attend the summit because of “very limited accommodation.” But it singled out the ABC and explained why it banned the broadcaster:
“No representative from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be granted a visa to enter Nauru under any circumstances, due to this organisation’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. It is our right, as it is the right of every nation, to choose who is allowed to enter.”
The ABC aired a documentary in 2016 alleging torture and child abuse linked to Australian government’s offshore asylum-seeker processing centres, which are managed by Nauru. It also published a report which alleged that Nauru’s president and some of his ministers received bribery from an Australian phosphate dealer.
Nauru condemned both reports as “racist” and “biased political propaganda”.
The small island nation was a mining site for several decades until phosphate deposits were exhausted in the 1980s. It received aid from Australia and hosted an Australian immigration detention facility.
ABC news director Gaven Morris criticised the decision of Nauru:
“The Nauruan 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 Nauru government quickly responded by describing the ABC statement as “arrogant, disrespectful and a further example of the sense of entitlement shown by this activist media organisation.” It added:
“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 Australian media do not decide who enters Nauru.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Nauru’s decision was “regrettable” but refused to intervene on behalf of ABC.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, an Australian network of media workers, said the government should pursue the issue with Nauru officials:
“This is an attack on press freedom that our government needs to condemn in the strongest possible terms. Recognising the sovereignty of another nation does not extend to accepting they have the right to prevent free and open reporting.”
Australia’s Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery threatened to boycott the event in Nauru:
“If the ban is not reversed, the media pool will be disbanded. If one cannot go, none will go. We oppose the Nauru edict because it is wrong in this instance and because it sets a dangerous precedent. What other Australians might be banned from a similar group by another government in future? We stand for a free press, not a banned one.”