By Sri Krishnamurthi of Pacific Media Watch
Media Director of the Vanuatu Daily Post group, Dan McGarry, is devastated by the Vanuatu government’s decision to reject his work permit after 16 years in the country and calls it an attack on media freedom.
“I’m gutted, personally. I’ve devoted 16 years of my life to this country’s development. My family is Ni Vanuatu,” the Canadian told the Pacific Media Centre (PMC).
On Thursday (November 7) he announced the rejection on social media (Facebook, Twitter) expressing his disappointment at being asked to leave as “after over a month of delay and uncertainty, I was informed this afternoon that my work permit has been rejected.”
“In July, the Prime Minister (Chariot Salwai) 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”.
“This all began when we broke a story about how six Chinese nationals had been detained without trial or access to legal counsel. Four of them had their Vanuatu citizenship unlawfully revoked without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. All of them were summarily deported to face prosecution in China,” McGarry summarised.
“Within days of these reports surfacing, complaints were lodged with the Media Association of Vanuatu about the Daily Post’s ‘negative’ reporting. No evidence was provided to support these complaints, but the timing leaves little question as to how and why they came about.”
He vowed to continue his fight to stay in Vanuatu and maintain standards of a free and independent media.
“The government can dress it up any way they like, but the evidence is clear: This is an attack on a free and independent media in Vanuatu. But Vanuatu is not Hong Kong, and it’s not China. This fight isn’t over yet…by a long shot,” he said.
“The groundswell of support we’ve seen, both at home and overseas, is
heart-warming and humbling. We will pursue this appeal aggressively, and
fight for justice to the last.”
McGarry explained that he was in the procedure of getting his citizenship when the government rejected his work permit.
“I am in the process of obtaining Vanuatu citizenship. This entire affair began when the Labour department declined to grant a short-term work permit while the application progressed,” McGarry said.
“The government alleges that my employer hasn’t prepared a proper succession plan, and suggests that another individual employed here is qualified for the job.
“Neither of these is true, and for the government to try to tell any private company who it should hire is highly inappropriate. To do so to an independent media company is doubly so.”
The next steps are to appeal the rejection, which followed an administrative process that he expected would take a month or more, and if that failed he would be seeking a judicial review.
The rejection of his work permit has happened on the eve of Melanesian Media Freedom Forum which is on Monday/Tuesday in Brisbane, and which he will attend.
Dr Tess Newton Cain, chair of the organising committee said of McGarry’s predicament “we expect that this issue will be a topic of conversation during the two days as indicative of issues that affect media freedom in our region,” she said.
McGarry’s employers, Trading Post Ltd, were just as surprised with the decision and pledged to support him.
“Based on conversations with the owners, the Daily Post rejects the allegations, and is of the opinion that the decision is illegitimate and flawed on its own merits. They intend to fight it.”
The Director of the Pacific Media Centre and editor of Pacific Media Watch, Professor David Robie, has also condemned the denial of a work permit by Vanuatu, saying it was “outrageous authoritarianism” and called for the visa to be granted.
“Dan McGarry is one of the leading investigative journalists in Vanuatu and the Pacific and has a commitment to development values,” Professor David Robie said.
“Dan has also been a strong media freedom advocate and has followed the proud traditions set by the Daily Post founder and owner, Marc Neil-Jones, by publishing the truth and holding the powerful to account.
“A loss of Dan McGarry to Vanuatu would be a huge loss to the region as well,” Professor Robie said.
McGarry has received support from the Media Association of Vanuatu and its 89 members which has urged Prime Minister Salwai to relook at all the contributions the Vanuatu Media Industry has made and all that McGarry has done in promoting the development policies and projects over the last four years of the government.