RSF criticises Nauru government over blocking media visa requests

Nauru detention centre refugees ... frustrated. Image: PMC

Report by Pacific Media Centre – Friday, October 23, 2015

Item: 9461

PARIS (Reporters Without Borders/Pacific Media Watch): Reporters Without Borders condemns Nauru’s decision to impose a media embargo amid growing controversy about alleged human rights abuses in the Australian government refugee detention centre on the island.

Nauru’s authorities must allow journalists to investigate the allegations.

The island’s authorities have not only turned a blind eye to allegations of rape and other abuses in the detention centre, which they host on behalf of the Australian government, but they have also decided to block all media coverage of the alleged abuses.

In an email to Al Jazeera’s Sydney bureau on October 9, the Nauru government said not only that it was refusing the Qatari TV broadcaster’s visa request but also that visa requests from all news media would be refused.

“We urge Nauru’s government to lift the embargo that it has imposed on the foreign media,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

“Amid allegations of sexual assault and other forms of mistreatment in the Australian government-funded detention centre, media investigation of these allegations is essential. It is unacceptable that Australia, after moving asylum processing offshore at great expense, should also delegate censorship and discriminatory decisions against the media.”

As there are no independent media on Nauru, a small and remote island in the Central Pacific, it is vital that international media should be able to report on what is happening inside the detention centre, the constitutionality of which is currently being examine by the High Court of Australia.

Previous violations

This blackout is not Nauru’s first violation of freedom of information.

In January 2014, the island’s government hiked the cost of journalism visa applications from 200 to A$8000 Australian dollars (5000 euros) – an increase of nearly 4000 percent.

Although Australia has a good ranking in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – 25th out of 180 countries – Reporters Without Borders has often criticised its policy of blocking access to information about its treatment of asylum-seekers.

The Border Force Act that took effect on June 30 provides for sentences of up to two years in prison for employees of the refugee detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island who leak information about the conditions and treatment of the refugees.

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The Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology also collaborates with other Asia-Pacific media centres engaged in research and cultural production and develops cultural and research publications, building on the success of the peer-reviewed publication Pacific Journalism Review, media freedom project Pacific Media Watch and current affairs website Asia Pacific Report.