Wed, Jul 04, 2018 - Page 5 News List

ABC barred from forum

NAURU NO:The nation that houses a refugee camp for Australia accused the broadcaster of meddling in an election, harassing its president and biased reporting

AFP and the Guardian, SYDNEY

The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) has been banned from an annual Pacific Islands Forum by host nation Nauru for “harassment and lack of respect,” after critical coverage of the nation’s government and its controversial camp for asylum seekers.

In a decision slammed yesterday as an “outrageous” restriction on press freedom, the Nauruan government said the ABC was not welcome at September’s 18-member forum, despite expectations that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would attend.

Nauru said it was due to “this organization’s blatant interference in domestic politics prior to the 2016 election, harassment of and lack of respect toward our president in Australia.”

It also accused the ABC of “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,” it added in a statement late on Monday.

Nauru, which has a population of barely 11,000, hosts a camp that processes asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat under Canberra’s hard-line immigration policy.

Conditions at the facility has been slammed by the UN and the ABC has been criticized by Nauru for its reporting on the issue.

The broadcaster has also aired allegations that Nauruan President Baron Waqa and some of his ministers were bribed by an Australian businessperson.

Citing a lack of accommodation, the Nauruan government is restricting the number of reporters allowed to attend the forum. Australia’s press gallery in Canberra was planning to send a three-person pool, with the ABC providing broadcast coverage.

The Australian Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery described Nauru’s decision as an “outrageous restriction on press freedom.”

“All Australians should be dismayed that the government of Nauru seeks to exclude an Australian media organization in this way,” gallery president David Crowe said.

Access to Nauru is ordinarily difficult, with the government in 2014 raising the cost of a media visa to A$8,000 (US$5,910), non-refundable if it is not granted.

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

“It can hardly claim it is ‘welcoming the media’ if it dictates who that media will be and bans Australia’s public broadcaster,” he added on the broadcaster’s Web site.

At a news conference yesterday, Turnbull said it would be “regrettable” if the ABC were not able to attend the forum and Canberra would “love to have” the ABC there.

“But we have to remember and respect Nauru’s sovereignty,” he said. “It is up to Nauru who comes into their country, just as it’s up to our government ... as to who comes to Australia.”

The Australian government “supports press freedom,” he added.

Asked if Australia would ask Nauru to overturn the decision, Turnbull said: “The one thing I won’t be engaging in is megaphone diplomacy, but I have a very good relationship with the president of Nauru and I look forward to seeing him soon.”

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