Hope for foreign media access to West Papua
Hopes have been raised for greater access to the Pacific's hidden region after the Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised West Papua would be open to foreign media.
A West Papua journalist says although the Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised West Papua will be open to foreign media, a cabinet minister claims special permits are needed.
Jokowi said over the weekend that international journalists will now be able to go to West Papua without restriction.
The news has been welcomed by journalists around the region, with the hope that the media will seize the chance to visit West Papua.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
Victor Mambor is a journalist for West Papua's Tabloid Jubi, and interviewed President Jokowi, who told him that the ban on foreign journalists would be lifted. He says he's happy to hear Jokowi's statement, but it seems the problem of the "clearing house" in Jakarta, where all foreign journalists must apply to have access to Papua, still exists. Mr Mambor says after he spoke with the President, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Tjahjo Kumolo, said foreign media will still need special permission.
VICTOR MAMBOR: The president said, all of the foreign journalist can come to West Papua free, no special needs. But his minister said foreign journalists who come to West Papua need special request, need a special permit, need to write a letter, need to explain where they want to go. So I'm sorry, that's a problem.
Before being elected, President Jokowi campaigned with the promise to open up access to West Papua, but was criticised last year when two French journalists were detained. They were making a documentary about the separatist movement in Papua, and were handed a 10-week jail term for misusing their tourist visas. Victor Mambor says if Jokowi's promise is to be proven, foreign journalists will have to try to enter West Papua. He says for some in power, the perception of international journalists is not positive.
VICTOR MAMBOR: I don't know if they understand what Jokowi needs. Because the last time I spoke with the Police Chief here, and he told me that foreign journalists always make propaganda about West Papua. They never make a news about the West Papua development. They always make propaganda, bad news for West Papua.
The president of the Papua New Guinea Media Council, Alexander Rheeney, says the fact Jokowi has gone on record saying international journalists are welcome, is a positive development. He says there is a big following of the West Papua issue in PNG, and this brings the debate to a new level.
ALEXANDER RHEENEY: Papua New Guinea journalists have over the years had difficulties as well, trying to gain access in terms of coverage on West Papua issues. Jayapura, the main city on the other side of the border, not being far away from the PNG border, it makes it all the more easy. I'm sure there are colleagues within the media industry here in Papua New Guinea who would want to test the new arrangement that the president has announced.
The President of the Pacific Islands News Association, Moses Steven, says the Indonesian government recognises all sides of a story must be told. He says it's also important that international media liase with the local media in West Papua.
MOSES STEVEN: In effect it will open the networking with our colleagues and counterparts there in West Papua, so we must avoid having mis-reporting and mis-representation of what is actually going on in the ground. We need our colleagues on the ground to give us information and direct us where to go or who to talk to.
West Papua Action Auckland's Maire Leadbeater says taking Jokowi's promise on face value, it's a hopeful sign that the rigid repression of the provinces by Indonesia could be softening. She says one of the biggest problems for West Papua was being shut away from the outside world and its Pacific neighbours.
MAIRE LEADBEATER: If people understand what's happening in West Papua, and they understand that the people there don't have full freedoms and their human rights are abused, then they engage with the issue more strongly, and they press their governments to engage with the issue, and I think we can start to hope for change in West Papua.
She says she's hoping media in New Zealand will now take the opportunity to visit West Papua freely, as the President has promised. Meanwhile, the Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Tedjo Purdi-jat-no, has told the Antara news agency there will be screening and permits, which carry preconditions if journalists want to report. He says reports must not discredit Indonesia.
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