26 Jul 2013

Nauru opposition MP outraged at government media gag order

5:33 pm on 26 July 2013

A Nauru opposition MP, Matthew Batsiua, says he is appalled that the government is stopping local state media from broadcasting an interview with him.

Mr Batsiua says last Wednesday he was interview by Nauru Media on the opposition's views about the riot last week and its aftermath.

He told Don Wiseman the interviewed canvassed issues such as the government's sudden suspension of the police commissioner.

MATTHEW BATSIUA: We're not sure exactly what the reasons are that led to Richard Britten's suspension. We've heard conflicting reasons given by the acting president to the media. What we find astounding, though, is that the government would then remove a very experienced head of police half an hour before the riots erupted. To us, we question the wisdom behind that move. One would think you would require the head of police and the police as a unit to be intact, facing a situation that is escalating into a serious conflict. So we question the wisdom of that. We welcomed the call by the government to further investigate the actions or the conduct of the police commissioner through a select committee at parliament. We certainly will support that because we truly want to find out exactly what the reasons are.

DON WISEMAN: Do you think the government panicked?

MB: I think there was a degree of panic. I think the reaction of the government was not done in consultation with those in charge of the security, which are the police, and I think those are the lessons that are to be learnt from this whole thing.

DW: Who was it in government who ordered the call out of the reservists?

MB: We believe that that call came from cabinet, from politicians that were sitting in their offices, making decisions that are basically security related decisions that should have been coming from the police. We've also been told that the acting director of police was not aware. When we questioned the government, the government said it came from the director of police. But we question the accuracy of that comment because when we've talked to people and we've done our own investigations talking to people, the information that was told to us was that the director of police did not know that reservists were coming up to help the police, and that was quite a dangerous situation. By that time, the riots had been controlled and the people that were the main instigators had been arrested and handcuffed and sitting down and the situation was relatively calm, apart from the fire that was still going on. And having the public in panic, coming up to provide assistance to the police, there was a situation that could have erupted. And the police were put in a situation where not only were they worrying about handling and controlling those that were involved in the riot, now they also had to handle and control the multiple people coming up quite agitated and panicked.

DW: Were the reservists in a degree of panic?

MB: They were in a high level of agitation, because the information came out... They sort of portrayed the whole situation as if the nation was under attack, so the people coming up were ready to defend the nation, arming themselves with bushknives and shovels and picks and so forth. It could have turned really ugly very quickly, so the police were under great pressure again. After controlling the rioters and arresting them, now they have to try and control the mob that have come up after the government put out the call for people to come and assist police.

DW: Well, it was a mob. They weren't, in any way, organised reservists?

MB: It was a mob. There was no government person up there to administer or direct or co-ordinate, so the police were taken a bit by surprise, as we've been told. So they ended up trying to keep the mob separate from the rioters.

Nauru Opposition MP Matthew Batsiua, who has says he has written to David Adeang, who had been acting president at the time, to rethink his ban on the media running his interview. He says the censorship is a disturbing trend with the new government taking unilateral actions to shut opposition viewpoints out of the media.