(PINA/IFEX) - On 6 October 2000, the Kiribati Government said that the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) is welcome to send a journalist to cover this month's summit of Pacific Islands, Australian and New Zealand leaders in Kiribati. But the government said its ban on AFP's New Zealand/South Pacific correspondent, New Zealander Mike Field, entering the country will stand.
The news was given to PINA. PINA has been working through its Kiribati members to see if the ban on Field could be lifted by the Kiribati Government.
Kiribati, a central Pacific atoll nation of 84,000 people, will be hosting the annual meeting of the sixteen-nation Pacific Islands Forum. AFP has been trying to get an "Unwanted Immigrant" order Kiribati imposed on Field in 1999 lifted. The Kiribati government banned Field over his reports about Kiribati published in a regional magazine, "Pacific Islands Monthly".
Rikiaua Takeke, Forum media coordinator in the Office of the Beretitenti (president), told PINA that Kiribati as a democratic country will allow AFP to send any journalist except Field. Takeke said: "This is because he is responsible for writing unfair, untrue, and derogative stories about Kiribati and the Kiribati people. The ban is also made for his own security since many locals may attempt violence against him while in Kiribati.
"Mr Field has been so arrogant in his dealings with us claiming he has lots of materials he can use to discredit Kiribati if we do not bend to his wishes. He has also claimed that he would make trouble for Kiribati if we do not allow him to report the Forum by getting all the powerful media organisations to back him. We just do not understand people like that."
In response, Field denied the Kiribati government claims and told PINA: "I have had absolutely no dealings whatsoever with the Kiribati government since I was there ... well over a year. They have claimed I 'demanded' accreditation. I have reviewed the form I sent them and it was absolutely as you would expect - name, address, etc. I have not engaged in any discussion with them - or anybody else - about materials 'that can discredit them'. Who have I made the claims to? Who would be interested? I stress I have had no 'dealings' with Kiribati; point me to a single letter, phone call, anything?"
On the Kiribati government's willingness to welcome any AFP reporter except him, Field, who normally covers Forum meetings for AFP, said: "AFP makes its staffing decisions, not Kiribati."
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Phil Goff has also been trying to persuade Kiribati to lift its ban on Field. "I know Mike," Goff has been quoted as saying. "He can be a journalist who doesn't worry too much about the sensibilities of the country or the peoples that he writes about. He is also, in my view, a very good journalist and the Forum would be poorer for not having a person of his calibre there. Obviously I respect the right of Kiribati to issue or not to issue a visa to any individual. We ourselves have that right in this country but we also quite strongly believe in freedom of the press."
Field's reports in "Pacific Islands Monthly" highlighted development problems in Kiribati. He also wrote about efforts to block the directors of Newair FM, who are trying to set up Kiribati's first non-governmental radio station (see IFEX alert of 21 September 1999), and questions about the role of a Chinese research station in Kiribati.
Field is also routinely prevented from entering the kingdom of Tonga. That country's government has said he must apply for and be granted a visa before he can travel to Tonga (see IFEX alert of 24 June 1999). When he has sought a visa it has been refused.