9 Jul 2016

Row over Nauru media access widens ahead of poll

7:22 am on 9 July 2016

Nauru's former Director of Media says a statement from the government that there has never been state political advertising is an absolute lie.

Communications Minister Shadlog Bernicke claimed Nauru TV and radio had a long standing policy of not airing political advertising from either side.

He was taking issue with the Opposition which said it had been shut out of media ahead of today's election while there was widespread access for the government MPs.

About 8000 Nauruans will cast their votes tomorrow in the nation's general election.

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Photo: 123RF

Rod Henshaw, who ran Nauru state media from 2010, says for the poll that year they offered government MPs the chance to run advertisements and a number took it up.

"But we also went out of our way to make the same service available to the members of the then opposition and said 'look we will even do up your ads for you, just to even up the balance'," he said.

"There was always offer of being able to advertise if they so desired. And again in 2013 the same thing happened. Sprent Dabwido was the president in those days, and again we did government advertising."

Rod Henshaw was one of a number of Australians deported from Nauru after the outgoing government came to power.

A body that advocates for the freedom of expression in the Pacific welcomed news that election observers in Nauru would monitor campaigning in the media.

The co-chair of the Pacific Freedom Forum, Titi Gabi, said electoral observers could not declare the election fair if there wasn't full and free access to all news media.

The Forum's other co-chair, Monica Miller, said the Nauru government must remember that state media was not their media as it's paid for by the public, including the Opposition.

The Forum also criticised the two year suspension of five Opposition members from the last parliament, which it said cancelled the voice of the people.

The Chamber of Parliament, Nauru

The Chamber of Parliament, Nauru Photo: Supplied

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association said it cannot impose a particular way of thinking on sovereign countries.

Two years ago five Nauru MPs were suspended from the island's parliament and appealed unsuccessfully to the Association for support.

But the newly appointed Secretary General of the Association, Akbar Khan, said stepping into such situations was not its role.

He said it cannot sanction a member country.

"It is about having conversations with members about impressing upon those particular parliaments about the importance of those institutions in the societies in which they operate and also impressing upon the prime minister and governments of those bodies about the importance of modelling the behaviour of parliamentary democracy," he said.

Akbar Khan said this message will be reinforced during a regional parliamentary conference in Tonga next week.

The suspensions had been lifted with the end of the current parliamentary term.

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