The Vanuatuan government has refused to renew the work permit of its largest newspaper’s long-serving director, Dan McGarry, in what he said was a “straight up attack on the media.”
After 16 years in Vanuatu, McGarry’s application to renew his work permit was refused on Thursday, meaning that McGarry, whose spouse and children are from the country, will have to leave Vanuatu.
McGarry, who is Canadian, said he believed he was being forced out because of the paper’s critical coverage of the government and accused the government of misusing administrative processes for political means.
McGarry said in a statement that the “overt reason” his visa had been refused was that his position should have been “localized” — filled by someone from Vanuatu — by now, adding: “But we all know the real reason: the Daily Post reporting on the government’s activities caused such discomfort that they are willing to abuse administrative processes to silence me.”
“In July the prime minister summoned me and berated me for my ‘negative reporting.’ ‘If you don’t like it here,’ he told me, ‘go home.’ But Vanuatu is my home,” he said.
McGarry said he had met with Daily Post executives and was lodging an appeal against the decision.
He told the Guardian Australia that there was nothing unusual about his application and he had expected it to be approved — as one was for a Fijian employee just two months ago.
“Our contention is that this is an illegitimate process. It’s a straight up attack on the media. The rejection to me was copied to the minister of internal affairs. He has no business being involved in any of these decisions. So why is he being copied if he’s not been part of the process from the beginning?” he said.
The Vanuatuan government has been contacted for comment.
In July, the Daily Post broke the story of Vanuatu deporting six Chinese nationals — four of whom had obtained Vanuatu citizenship — without due process or access to legal counsel.
“Under a veil of secrecy, China has convinced Vanuatu to enforce Chinese law within its own borders,” the story opened.
McGarry said he was “quite confident” it was that series of reports that upset the government.
McGarry has lived in Vanuatu for 16 years, taking the role of media director in 2015 after the paper’s founder, Marc Neil-Jones, stepped down.
“My predecessor was assaulted three times, deported once, and imprisoned once, for doing the exact same job I’m doing,” McGarry said.
“We pulled through that adversity. I took the job knowing what I might be facing because I knew it was important,” he added.
He said while he was confident about the appeal against the work permit refusal, it had been tough.
“It’s my life. This is everything; it’s all I care about. I spent last night dealing with my partner of six years who was in tears. My children know there’s something wrong,” McGarry said.
The Media Association of Vanuatu (MAV) said it was saddened by the actions of the government, which it said did not use other available options to “deal with its grievances” over Daily Post articles.
“MAV maintains that silencing the media and journalists will only affect the good relationship media has with this government,” it said.
“The relationship is at a level never before experienced by [the] media industry. MAV is therefore asking the honorable prime minister to ensure Mr Dan McGarry has the liberty to pursue all the legal process available to him in order to have his valid documents organized,” it added.
Australia’s journalism union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, described the incident as “a disturbing development that raises concerns over press freedom and the public’s right to know in Vanuatu.”
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