Malcolm Turnbull says Nauru’s ban on ABC journalists ‘regrettable’ | Australia news
Malcolm Turnbull has said it would be “regrettable” if reporters from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation were not allowed to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, but Australia must respect the Nauruan government’s right to refuse ABC journalists a visa.
On Monday the Nauruan government announced it would block the ABC from attending to cover the forum in September, claiming the news organisation is biased, and has now doubled down by labelling the organisation “arrogant and disrespectful” for contesting the visa ban.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Turnbull said it would be “regrettable” if the ABC were not able to attend the Pacific Islands Forum and the Australian government would “love to have” the ABC there.
“But we have to remember and respect Nauru’s sovereignty,” he said. “It is up to Nauru who comes into their country, just as it’s up to our government … as to who comes to Australia.
“So we respect their sovereignty but obviously we’d prefer to have events like this open to all the media.”
Turnbull said the Australian government “supports press freedom”.
“We regret the ABC has not been given a visa,” he said. “It is a matter for Nauru.”
Asked if Australia would ask Nauru to overturn the decision, Turnbull said: “The one thing I won’t be engaging in is megaphone diplomacy but I have a very good relationship with the president of Nauru and I look forward to seeing him soon.”
On Tuesday the Nauruan government said the ABC’s statement that it would not relinquish its spot was “arrogant, disrespectful and a further example of the sense of entitlement shown by this activist media organisation”.
“We remind the ABC that we – like Australia – have every right to refuse a visa to any person or organisation that we believe is not of good character, and that entry into our country is a privilege not a right,” it said. “The Australian media do not decide who enters Nauru.”
Earlier, the Nauruan government had alleged the ABC had engaged in “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.”
In response the ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, Gaven Morris, said the broadcaster “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 ABC gave no details of how it intended to maintain its position in the media pool in the light of the ban.
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 fee to apply for a visa, with no guarantee of approval.
The ABC ban has been condemned by the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery committee as an “outrageous restriction on press freedom”, while the Vanuatu Daily Post said it would no longer cover the event.
“We were offered a spot. We will not be accepting,” its media director, Dan McGarry, tweeted. “All of us or none of us.”
In 2015 the ABC published a report alleging 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 Turnbull.
Morris said the national broadcaster “vigorously defends our role in doing independent reporting on our region”.
• Paul Karp is a member of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery committee.