Basil: Media ban a bad omen

Main Stories, National

The National, Wednesday 29th August, 2012

BANNING foreign journalists from entering the country is a bad sign for a vibrant democracy and could send wrong signals to the international community, deputy Opposition leader Sam Basil said in Port Moresby yesterday.
Basil said “banning of fo­reign journalists over a major human rights issue such as asylum seekers – is a bad omen” regardless of whether it was temporary.
“We have always been a vibrant, democratic nation running our own affairs transparently amid the international spotlight.
“What’s the reason for the sudden change now?”
Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato announced last Friday a temporary ban on foreign journalists entering was necessary while the country sorted through internal issues related to the re-opening of the Manus refugee processing centre.
“Pato, as a lawyer, should know better about defending human rights and the role of journalists,” Basil said.
“Have we got things to hide? We have joined the world in disdaining dollar diplomacy.”
Basil said while the government had a duty to protect the national interest, which may include bilateral engagements with Australia, PNG, as part of the global village, had a duty to ensure that humanitarian issues were dealt with under international media spotlight.
“No government – big or small – aid donor or aid recipient, should be allowed to handle humanitarian issues in the dark.
“The media, and foreign journalists in particular, have demonstrated that the public exposure they bring can defuse bad decisions and their dire implications on the people.
“The ill-advised Sandline International initiative undertaken by the Chan-Haiveta government in 1997, which would have resulted in the state-sponsored slaughter of Bougainvilleans, PNG’s own citizens, and forcefully reopened the Panguna mine by mercenaries is a classic example.
“An article by Mary-Louise O’Callaghan of the Sydney Morning Herald defused that and caused the government to backtrack.
“While nations may not like fly-in fly-out journalists, they have their specific role in assisting developing nations such as PNG through the intense scrutiny they bring on governments – including their own.
“Aside from that, Pato should know that practically, foreign journalists who apply for visas often have to wait for a long time before they are issued, and news does not wait for visas to be issued before it happens,” Basil said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby said its government had nothing to do with the temporary ban on international media trying to travel into the country to cover developments on Manus.
“This is really a matter with the PNG government,” the spokesperson said.
Pato could not be reached for comment yesterday as he was in the Cook Islands attending the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Chief Immigration Officer Mataio Rabura was unavailable for comment yesterday.
However, a resident international correspondent in Port Moresby said the ban did not affect in-country correspondents.
The correspondent said the ban seemed to be aimed at stopping more foreign journalists coming into the country to report on the centre.
“I have gone with the delegation to Manus and did not find any problem so I guess it is aimed at foreign journalists,” the correspondent said.