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Media not welcome at summit near migrant camp in Australia

Located about forty kilometers south of the equator, the tiny state has considerably restricted the possibilities for the media to cover this annual meeting, to the point of being accused of muzzling the press.

The meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum (Fip), from September 1 to 9, is normally an opportunity for its 18 member countries to mediate crucial issues that are generally forgotten at other summits, such as the existential threat posed by the global warming.

But media coverage will be limited. Blame it on the distrust vis-à-vis the press of the authorities of Nauru who, recently estimated the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, “beginning to pay towards authoritarianism”.

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Last month, Australian public broadcaster ABC was banned from a summit altogether for “harassment and disrespect” in its news coverage of the island.

Nauru “can hardly claim that it + welcomes the media + if it (…) bans the Australian public channel”, observes Gaven Morris, editor-in-chief of ABS.

AFP has not obtained accreditation either.

“Dismayed” journalists

It has been difficult for the media to report in the microstate for years. In 2014, the government raised the journalistic visa to $5,800, non-refundable if not obtained.

With the achievement of the summit of Fip, the pressure has increased for the island to be more open. And she temporarily suspended visa fees.

But in return, it decided to limit the number of journalists it would accredit to only 30, photographers and cameramen included.

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Nauru denies wanting to restrict freedom of the press and argues that it has a limited reception capacity, due to its size: 21 km2, 11,000 inhabitants.

“We are a small Nation and we have limited accommodation and facilities for the Fip,” the authorities said.

“Media around the world have understood this and gone through the accreditation process. ABC seems to think it deserves special treatment.”

The argument fails to convince.

“Infrastructure constraint plays a role in limiting pools (of journalists), but we are appalled by this attempt to control media coverage,” the New Zealand Parliamentary Press Gallery journalists’ association said.

Nauru’s mistrust of the media is in fact intertwined with what infamously makes the island famous: Australia’s asylum detention centre.

“Out of sight out of mind”

Canberra has an extremely harsh policy towards illegal immigrants who try to reach its territory, relegating them indefinitely to offshore camps, in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. The official goal being to deter candidates from the perilous journey to Australia.

The camp, which currently has more than 240 men, women and children, is crucial for the local economy, bloodless since the depletion of the phosphate reserves which had contributed to its development in the last century.

According to Australian figures, the public revenues of this island that France ranks among tax havens increased from 20 to 115 million Australian dollars (12 to 72 million euros) between 2010/2011 and 2015/2016, mainly thanks to Australian grants related to the camp.

For Canberra, the advantage is twofold: relegated to 4,000 km, asylum seekers are not on its soil, and are kept out of sight.

Some associations present this camp as an “Australian Guantanamo”, the UN regularly deeming illegal the continued detention of people who have not committed any crime.

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In a 2016 report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child denounced “inhuman and degrading treatment” suffered by minors in Nauru, “including physical, psychological and sexual violence”.

He also deplored the restrictions on the media which made it difficult to obtain information on the situation in the camps.

For Australian artist Arielle Gamble, the news blackout in Nauru is a deliberate strategy.

“And it worked,” says the activist who has just opened an exhibition in Melbourne devoted to the ordeal of the relegated from Nauru. “For Australians, it’s a classic case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”

With AFP

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