Media prize a ‘defeat’ for Australian refugee censorship, says author

Behrouz Boochani … Australian government used “systematic censorship” to control refugee information. Image: Hoda Afshar/Behrouz Boochani/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A refugee journalist detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island says winning an Italian award for investigative journalism could end censorship of offshore detention in the Australian media.

Behrouz Boochani, who has made a documentary and written a book during his five years in exile, has won the Anna Politkovskaya Prize for Press Freedom from the Italian magazine Internazionale.

Boochani regularly contributes to The Guardian and the Saturday Paper in Australia but said other publications supported the Australian government’s efforts to restrict information about its offshore detention regime.

READ MORE: Australia needs a moral revolution

“The Australian government couldn’t keep 2000 people, including children and women, in a harsh prison camps on Manus and Nauru without systematic censorship,” Boochani said.

“I have many experiences working with the media in Australia and also internationally over the past five years and I know that the government always tries to manage the information and censor the situation,” he said.

-Partners-

“But after five years I think they are defeated because international media and public opinion are aware completely of what the government has done on Manus and Nauru.”

Condemning a fact
The Guardian reported that the award’s organisers paid tribute to Boochani’s “commitment to condemning a fact which has been intentionally kept out of the spotlight”.

The prize was a symbol of the struggle of the refugees who had spoken out from offshore detention as well as their advocates, human rights defenders and independent journalists who had covered their stories, the journalist said.

“I think it is very important because our work is acknowledged and recognised internationally.”

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Loss of MSF mental health carers from Nauru heightens fears for children

Doctors Without Borders staff at a display tent during Nauru’s 50th independence celebrations in January. Image: MSF

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Health and human rights advocates fear the mental ill-health of refugees on Nauru could worsen following the Pacific government’s move to scrap a vital support service.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF – Médecins Sans Frontières) was told on Friday its free psychological and psychiatric services, provided to both Nauruans and refugees since November 2017, were “no longer required”.

The medical aid agency was given 24 hours to cease operations which is comprised of a clinic at the Republic of Nauru Hospital and home visits.

READ MORE: Manus and Nauru background and updates

The organisation indicated a desire to find a way to continue its work, reports Australian Associated Press.

“At this stage MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island,” a spokesperson said.

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“We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work.”

The abrupt dismissal follows a report by two prominent Australian refugee organisations saying most refugee children on Nauru are experiencing life-threatening mental health problems, including not eating or drinking and showing suicidal symptoms.

An Australian protest over deteriorating conditions for children at the Nauru detention centre. Image: Al Jazeera

‘Add to distress’
Advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition said MSF’s absence would “add enormously to the distress among asylum seekers and refugees” because the Australian government’s contracted mental health care provider, International Health and Medical Services, was “stretched to breaking point”.

The Department of Home Affairs said on Saturday MSF’s dismissal was a matter for the Nauruan government and that it would continue to provide “appropriate healthcare and mental health support to refugees and asylum seekers through contracted service providers”.

MSF uses more than 30,000 doctors, nurses and other mostly volunteer personnel to provide medical aid in more than 70 countries.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Refugees, journalist detention in Nauru ‘overshadow Pacific issues’

Support was widespread for journalist Barbara Dreaver’s detention at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru earlier this month. But, reports Maxine Jacobs for Asia Pacific Journalism, some commentators argue journalists should abide by their host nation’s reporting regulations and the Nauru refugee crisis is not as important to Pacific nations as it is to New Zealand and Australia.

While controversy dogged Nauru’s detention of TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver during the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this month, some critics question how the reporting “overshadowed” climate change and other critical Pacific issues.

New Zealand journalists have expressed their outrage against the holding of Dreaver during the summit, but Massey University’s Pasifika director Associate Professor Malakai Koloamatangi says reporting of important issues discussed at the forum was sidelined by attention focused on media freedom.

“Because of what happened to Barbara Dreaver, and the lack of access to refugees, it was kind of a distraction and it detracted from maybe covering the main business at the forum,” he says.

READ MORE: Barbara Dreaver: Mana counts in the Pacific

APJS NEWSFILE

Dr Koloamatangi says issues such as climate change, regional security, immigration and trade are significant concerns for the Pacific and the forum.

However, these issues had been “outmatched by the spotlight” on Dreaver and Nauru’s refugee camps.

-Partners-

“The refugee issue is probably not as important in the Pacific as it is in New Zealand and Australia, that’s really the reality of the situation.

People here and Australia have a lot of time to be concerned about the refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, but unfortunately for Pacific Islanders themselves there are other pressing issues like poverty and domestic violence, third world diseases and so on that they are probably more concerned about.”

Detained, released and then reinstated TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver … Nauru government “displeased” with NZ reporting on the refugee issue. Image: Barbara Dreaver/Twitter

Highly sensitive
Dr Koloamatangi says the refugee issue is a highly sensitive one for Nauru.

He says he does not condone limiting press freedom, but it is a sensitive and complicated issue which needs to be looked at from many points of view.

“All journalists need to be respectful of the laws and regulations of the countries where they work…but on the other hand you have people who have decided that this is the way they’re going to work, regardless of the fact that they will be punished by the law.

“Some of them have been to prison, so it’s a choice.

“Obviously when Barbara decided not to follow the directions given by the Nauruan government she was obviously taking a risk, and with risk come possibilities of penalties and punishment…but it’s what makes her the quality journalist that she is.”

Nauru issued a statement explaining Dreaver’s detention by police, saying her accreditation and access for the Pacific Islands Forum had been revoked due to a breach in visa terms, but was reinstated the next day.

Dreaver said the interview she held with a refugee was outside a restaurant, not inside a camp.

Detained three hours
However during the interview she said she was questioned by police and held at a police station for three hours for breaching her visa.

“I was under the impression, and I know, we were allowed to talk to refugees. I think it probably shows that things are a wee but sensitive here. In fact, a lot sensitive.”

Nauru’s statement said the government expected media to portray the detention of Dreaver as preventing press freedom.

“We have only asked for co-operation from the media in order to preserve public safety, and this is not unreasonable.”

Nauru President Baron Waqa said media attending the forum were not interested issues in the Pacific – only issues for their own nations and they should have had a stronger focus on the forum.

“How many leaders here? But we’re having to deal with these other issues which do not even touch on the concerns of the Pacific and the rest of the leaders. It disappoints us,” he said.

“Don’t tell me about refugees being an issue. How can it be an issue for Tonga, for Kiribati? No, it’s an issue for Australia and for all those refugee advocates out there.”

‘Selling news’
President Waqa said journalists were invited and came to Nauru to report on the forum but chose to report on other issues on the island.

He said the “media are impressing your will on us” and “sell our news”.

However, Radio New Zealand journalist Gia Garrick, who reported on the forum, rejected the President’s statement.

“Sell the stories? For money? Well, being part of [public broadcaster] RNZ I would completely refute that.

“It’s kind of a double standard from the President because on the first day he invited journalists to go and talk to refugees in the community, saying things along the lines of the refugees here live harmoniously, they live in the community, we’re not going to stop access to them, we invite you to talk to them and you’re more than welcome.”

A journalist who attended the forum provided Pacific Media Centre with the guidelines issued to journalists covering the event which states:

“You are only authorised to report on, or take photos or videos of, the PIF (Pacific Islands Forum). Any other subjects must be approved by the RON (Republic of Nauru).”

Mixed messages
Garrick said journalists were sent mixed messages from the get go because guidelines were vague and as the refugee situation was raised at the forum it was not clear what the restrictions were.

“There was no way a set of very vague visa guidelines and a direction from the media person was going to stop us from reporting the story.

“We still covered the forum as we would previous years, but there was also the matter of the refugees, the 900 refugees that they were keeping in detention centres on the island.”

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) supported Dreaver after her detention by Nauru police, stating in a release that her detention was unacceptable.

MFAT spokesperson Todd McClay said: “Freedom of the press is a fundamental part of any democracy and journalists must be free to tell important stories.”

Union E Tū, stood by the TVNZ Pacific correspondent, welcoming the support shown by MFAT, while challenging Australia for its alleged role in her detention.

“This is a story of huge public interest to audiences across the world and Barbara did not shy away from tackling it, even though it has always been clear authorities in both Nauru and Australia are not keen on a light being shone on the issue, E Tū said.

“While Barbara was detained by Nauru police, Australia too must take some responsibility for this attack on press freedom.”

Maxine Jacobs is a postgraduate student journalist on the Asia Pacific Journalism Studies course at AUT University.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Refugee children on Nauru ‘living without hope’, says advocacy group

Children outside RPC3 tents in Nauru … situation “untenable”. Image: Refugee Action Coalition/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A legal advocacy group has told the UN Human Rights Council that more than 100 asylum seeker and refugee children are living without hope on Nauru.

The Human Rights Law Centre addressed the latest council session in Geneva.

The centre’s Daniel Webb told the council that despite the fact the Australian government was professing its committment to human rights in Geneva, it continued to indefinitely imprison 102 children in its offshore detention centre on Nauru.

“Imprisoned for fleeing the same atrocities our government comes here and condemns. And after five years of detention, these children have now lost hope.

“Some have stopped speaking. Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself.”

Webb said if the detention was not stopped there would be deaths.

-Partners-

He said even the government’s own medical advisers were warning that the situation was untenable.

“Yet the Australian government still refuses to free these kids, and is fighting case after case in our Federal Court to deny them access to urgent medical care. Mr President, we are talking about 102 children.”

Australia presented their concerns regarding human rights around the world at the same session but did not mention their detention camps on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific Island leaders tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

ANALYSIS: The three-hour “detention” of television New Zealand Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver for “breaking protocols” over interviewing refugees on Nauru. But Josef Benedict reports this is just part of the dismal media freedom scene in the Pacific.

At this week’s gathering of key Pacific Island leaders on the Micronesian island of Nauru, conspicuously missing were journalists from Australia’s public broadcaster.

This was because the South Pacific’s smallest nation has refused visas to journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to enable them to attend and cover the four-day Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

And one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists, Television New Zealand’s Barbara Dreaver was detained for more than three hours yesterday after interviewing refugees from the notorious Australian-established detention centres on the island. The Nauru government claims she was not “detained”, merely “questioned’.

READ MORE: Self-immolation, hunger strikes and suicide: Children on Nauru want to die

The Nauru government’s ban on the ABC, it says, is in retaliation for the news organisation’s “blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 elections, harassment of and lack of respect towards our President and… continued biased and false reporting about our country.”

But some say ABC’s criticism of Nauru’s policies on notorious Australian-run refugee detention centre on the island – plagued by widespread reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, with at least five suicide deaths to date – may have more to do with it.

-Partners-

Those controversial camps are not on the agenda and not likely to be a subject of much discussion within the forum which ended today.

And neither is the issue of free speech and media freedom, since efforts to repress critical reporting has become increasingly common among Pacific governments.

Climate change
It is not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and wellbeing of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region pose a threat to the wellbeing of their democracies.

Indeed, CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, has found that these violations of freedom of expression appear to be systemic in the region.

In Fiji, attempts by the government to intimidate and silence free speech is creating a chilling effect ahead of upcoming national elections and before the date has even been set.

In February, Island Business magazine’s editor and two of its journalists were questioned under the Public Order Act over articles on the firing of a magistrate who had presided over a union dispute.

The 2016 sedition charges against The Fiji Times – widely regarded as the country’s last independent news outlet – saw its publisher, editor-in-chief and two others hauled through the courts over a reader’s letter to the editor that allegedly contained controversial views about Muslims.

Human rights groups believe the charges were politically motivated. The state has filed an appeal against their acquittal.

Journalists in Papua New Guinea often work in fear and many believe media freedom has been eroded. In February this year, PNG Post Courier reporter, Franky Kapin, was attacked and assaulted by staff from the Morobe Province Governor’s office for alleged biased reporting.

Journalists threatened
Journalists continue to be threatened and barred from covering the ongoing crisis at the Australian refugee detention center on Manus Island (after its closure) in the country’s north.

Senior Papua New Guinean journalist Titi Gabi says that increasing outside interference of the editorial process and the bribing and threatening of journalists has led to media freedom no longer being enjoyed in the country.

After a passenger ferry sank in Kiribati in February, leaving 93 people dead, authorities barred foreign journalists from entering the country to report on the disaster.

Meanwhile, the government of Samoa was criticised by a media freedom lobby group earlier this year for seeking to repress freedom of expression by reintroducing legislation on criminal libel without proper public consultation

Civil society groups in the regional power of Australia are extremely concerned about the impact that changes to security laws will have on fundamental freedoms. The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 were met with a storm of protest from media outlets and civil society organisations.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights has criticised the legislation, warning that the measures will have a “severely chilling effect upon academic research, free speech, and particularly constitutionally-protected free political speech”.

According to Amnesty International Australia, the draconian laws will make it a crime for charities to expose human rights violations, and to communicate with the United Nations about those violations.

Stifled free speech
So, why are governments in the region working to increasingly stifle free speech?

For one, they are coming under growing public scrutiny, led by journalists and civil society using social media, for abuse of power, lack of transparency and corruption at various government levels.

News stories exposing official human rights violations have received global attention, thanks to the efforts of international media and non-governmental organisations. Averse to the negative publicity, Pacific governments have responded with repressive action.

Also, civil society groups in the Pacific are increasingly raising not just national concerns but sensitive regional ones as well, such as rights abuses in West Papua, a region in Indonesia where there is an active pro-independence movement, and in refugee detention centres in Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island.

Asylum seekers stand behind a fence in Oscar compound at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. This has now been closed but problems remain for the asylum seekers, “stranded’ against their will within the Manus community. Image: Eoin Blackwell/AFP/Asian Correspodent

Seeking to appease regional powerhouses Indonesia and Australia as they appeal for economic investment, governments of small island states have no qualms trying to silence those speaking out on these issues at home.

In turn, the “growing influence of China” has also been cited as a justification for Australia’s new security policies. But many believe another objective is to keep government dealings from the public.

This regional trend flies in the face of Pacific countries’ clear commitments to respect and protect freedom of expression.

Good governance
In 2000, governments signed the Biketawa Declaration committing themselves to democracy, good governance, protection of human rights and maintenance of the rule of law. At the meeting in Nauru, leaders are expected to sign a Biketawa Plus Declaration, building on the original document.

In recent years, island nations have also made commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels contained in Goal 16. Ensuring fundamental freedoms is pivotal to meeting this goal, as well as the other 16 SDGs.

Leaders at the gathering needed to reiterate their nations’ commitment to fundamental freedoms in its communique and demonstrate it – to create an enabling environment for both the media and civil society to work without fear of criminalisation, harassment and reprisals.

Failing to do so – and the detention of Barbara Dreaver yesterday – are clear signs that the forum is willing to undermine its international obligations and its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer with global civil society alliance Civicus and a contributor to Asian Correspondent. This article is republished from Asian Correspondent with the permission of the author.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Stick to our Forum visa rules, Nauru warns media via Twitter

Detained, released and now reinstated TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver … Nauru government “displeased” with NZ reporting on the refugee issue. Image: Barbara Dreaver/Twitter

By RNZ Pacific

The Nauru government has taken to Twitter to warn journalists they are not above the law as they cover the Pacific Islands Forum.

Journalists covering the Forum are operating on visas with restrictions on reporting – in particular about the Australian-run detention camps.

New Zealand Television Pacific affairs journalist Barbara Dreaver lost her accreditation yesterday after Nauru said she had violated visa regulations.

READ MORE: Media freedom commentators condemn Nauru ‘gag’ actions

The TVNZ reporter was detained for more than three hours and stripped of her Forum accreditation – however that was reinstated today.

She had been interviewing a refugee outside a restaurant on the island when she was asked to go to a police station.

-Partners-

The Nauru government said journalists from New Zealand were not above the law and walking into certain areas unannounced increased risk.

The Nauru government’s ‘you aren’t above the law” media warning via Twitter. Image: PMC

The government also tweeted about the need for journalists to follow the rules, and accused some of reporting misinformation.

News reports disputed
At a news conference as part of the Forum President, Baron Waqa disputed news reports about what happened to Dreaver.

“No she wasn’t detained, she was taken in for questioning,” he said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who is also in Nauru, said freedom of the press was critical to democracy.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived earlier for the main day of the Forum and said she would be asking more questions about what happened during the course of the day.

She is joining other leaders in the traditional retreat, after which they will sign the Boe Declaration, making commitments about action on regional security, including transnational crime, illegal fishing and cybercrime.

RNZ political reporter Gia Garrick said journalists there did get a warning of sorts yesterday.

‘Wrong issues’
“We did have a warning. I guess that there was some displeasure or unrest from the Nauru government about the New Zealand reporting while we are here,” said Gia Garrick.

“We had an MFAT official sit the seven of us down, or actually it was the six of us minus Barbara [Dreaver], she wasn’t back at this stage …and tell us that the Nauru government would like to pass on a message to us that it would prefer if we reported on the Forum instead of just focusing on the one issue here.

“The government felt that we had not been reporting on the Forum to its satisfaction and been focusing on the wrong issues and so he wanted to pass on that it would be going against our visa conditions should we be going into these refugee camps and it was just a few hours later that Barbara Dreaver was detained or was taken to the police station.”

The Pacific Islands Forum ends today.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Media freedom commentators condemn Nauru ‘gag’ actions

Television New Zealand Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver talks to media in Nauru yesterday following her release after being detained by police for almost four hours. Image: RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Morning Report

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived today for the leader’s retreat at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru where she is expected to ask for details about the detention of TVNZ journalist Barbara Dreaver yesterday.

Dreaver, who is there to cover the Forum, was interviewing a refugee outside a restaurant when she was picked up by police.

She says they asked for her visa, told her she was breaching her conditions and cancelled her accreditation for the Pacific Islands Forum.

LISTEN: RNZ Morning Report

It is part of a wider pattern of restricting media coverage across the Pacific.

Sally Round is among a team of RNZ Pacific reporters who have been covering Nauru for many years.

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Professor David Robie is the director of the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology.

They talk to Susie Ferguson.

Both commentators criticised the media restrictions and obstruction by Nauruan authorities.

“There is nothing like being on the ground in a place when you are covering it – you get the firsthand view of everything,” Round said.

Having the Forum in Nauru presented the first opportunity for many years for journalists to be on the ground to independent reporting of the country.

There is no independent media on the island.

“We were building up to this with the ban on the ABC participating. It’s a clear pattern that’s being going on,” said Dr Robie.

“In fact, I’d say there has been erosion of peace freedom in the Pacific steadily over the last five years – ironically over the same period of the detention centres in Nauru and on Manus.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific Islands Forum masking Nauru human rights abuse, says advocate

A ward at the RON Hospital on Nauru Image: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A refugee advocate says behind the scenes of the Pacific Islands Forum on Nauru human rights abuses are continuing.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said journalists attending the forum need to look at the bigger picture.

Rintoul said to avoid scutiny, staff working at Australia’s refugee detention centres on the island have been told not to speak to the media.

He said despite the Nauru president’s denial of a mental health crisis among about 900 refugees on the island, self harm was continuing.

“There’s a woman on Nauru at the moment who’s swallowed a razor blade,” Rintoul.

“There have been recommendations from doctors on Nauru and in Australia that she can’t be treated on Nauru.

-Partners-

“She needs to be taken off Nauru for that treatment. She was sent home from the RON (Republic of Nauru) hospital last night come back when you start vomiting blood.”

Ian Rintoul said Nauru’s hospital were inadequate and in a poor state compared to facilities prepared for the forum.

“It’s one of the things the Australian government boasts about, how much money has been spent on the RON hospital. But when you look at photos of the hospital compared to facilities built for the forum you will see where the money has gone,” he said.

“It’s not just refugees, Nauruan people can’t get the treatment they need at the hospital.

“We’ve got hundreds of people (refugees) who’ve had to be sent off Nauru to Australia and other countries for medical treatment they can’t get on Nauru.”

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

The Nauru Civic Centre. Image: Refugee Action Coalition/RNZ Pacific

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media