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Foreign press temporarily banned from Papua New Guinea asylum center

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 30, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists joins its affiliate The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance in expressing concern that foreign journalists have been banned from accessing the proposed Regional Processing Centre for Asylum Seekers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. By contrast, Nauru has promised to give journalists access to report the stories and conditions of asylum seekers in its care.

Responding to media reports about the PNG ban, Christopher Warren, federal secretary of the Media Alliance: "It's disturbing that after having their visa application approved by the PNG Prime Minister's office, a Fairfax Media journalist and photographer have reportedly had their application stalled by the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service."

A report in Fairfax newspapers quotes a Service spokesperson as explaining that the visa applications had been stalled "due to a ban being imposed by the Foreign Minister on issuance of visas to foreign media personnel until further notice".

Speaking to New Zealand radio, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato explained that the ban was temporary and had been undertaken to protect the country from misreporting, which could be ''misinterpreted'' by Papua New Guineans. He said: "There's no need for the access."

Last week, Minister Pato announced that the PNG Cabinet has formally approved Australia's request to re-open the Manus Regional Asylum Processing Centre during a special National Executive Council meeting. The Australian Government is funding re-establishment of the detention centre and its facilities.

Nauru's Foreign Minister, Kieren Keke said his country had "no problem" with granting journalists access to people who wanted to speak publicly and to report on the conditions in the processing centre to be re-established there.

Christopher Warren said: "The PNG ban appears to be an over-reaction to an issue that, rather than be conducted in secrecy, should be made available to full and complete coverage by PNG and foreign media to ensure a completely open and transparent process is undertaken and that PNG voices are heard. Excluding the media and preventing proper scrutiny of what is planned for Manus Island only gives rise to confusion and may trigger the very kind of misreporting that Foreign Minister says he is concerned about."

The IFJ and The Media Alliance call on Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato to relax the ban and allow foreign media to report on the situation on Manus Island thus ensuring that the process of re-establishing and operation of the processing centre is done to everyone's satisfaction.

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