The government of Nauru has blocked the ABC from covering the Pacific Islands Forum, refusing to issue its journalists visas because of allegations of interference in its politics, bias and false reporting.
The government’s statement, issued on Monday, prompted outrage from the Australian parliamentary press gallery and a warning from the ABC it did not intend to vacate its spot, because the Nauruan government should not dictate who covered the event.
The Nauruan government promised that “at least one Australian TV outlet” would be allowed to cover the forum, to be held in the first week of September, but said it needed to restrict media numbers due to “very limited accommodation”.
“It should be noted that no representative from the [ABC] will be granted a visa to enter Nauru under any circumstances,” it said.
The statement blamed the ABC’s alleged “blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics during the 2016 election, harassment of and lack of respect towards our president in Australia, false and defamatory allegations against members of our government, and continued biased and false reporting about our country”.
“It is our right, as it is the right of every nation, to choose who is allowed to enter.”
With Australian media places at the forum limited to three, the ABC was to provide one journalist, with two from Australian Associated Press.
The ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, Gaven Morris, said it “does not intend to vacate” its position in the media pool covering the forum.
“The Nauruan government should not be allowed to dictate who fills the positions in an Australian media pool,” he said.
“It can hardly claim it is ‘welcoming the media’ if it dictates who that media will be and bans Australia’s public broadcaster.”
The president of the press gallery committee, David Crowe, issued a statement labelling the decision an “outrageous restriction on press freedom” and noting that the ABC was assisting all media outlets by contributing a journalist to the “unusually small pool”.
“All Australians should be dismayed that the government of Nauru seeks to exclude an Australian media organisation in this way.”
Nauru — which hosts an Australian immigration detention facility — has been criticised in the past for restrictions on media access in part due to its decision to charge journalists a non-refundable $8,000 (Dh29,380) fee to apply for a visa, with no guarantee of approval.
In 2015 the ABC reported that the president of Nauru, Baron Waqa, and his justice minister were allegedly bribed by an Australian phosphate dealer. That story was written by Alex McDonald and Hayden Cooper, who is now a media adviser to Malcolm Turnbull.
On Friday the ABC issued an apology to the Nauruan justice minister, David Adeang, withdrawing any suggestion in a Lateline report from 2016 that he might bear some responsibility for his wife’s death.
Morris said the national broadcaster “vigorously defends our role in doing independent reporting on our region”.
Since a harsh assessment of the Nauru detention centre from the BBC in 2013 very few Australian media representatives have visited the island, the most notable being the Australian’s Chris Kenny in 2015 and Channel Nine’s A Current Affair in June 2016. Sky News also managed to obtain access to the island in 2016.
The Nauruan government recognised that Australian media has “a unique interest in Nauru due to our partnership with Australia as part of its border security operations”.
It said all media attending the forum would have to abide by visa guidelines, “respect the laws of our country, and not engage in activities that cause or encourage disruption or civil unrest”.
“There are unique security and safety issues in Nauru that must be considered and respected, and the government reserves the right to revoke the visa of any person that breaches their visa conditions.”