Watchdog says Forum highlighted disdain
A Pacific media watchdog says last week's Pacific Islands Forum Summit in Papua New Guinea highlighted a level of disdain shown to the region's journalists.
Seven journalists were reportedly detained on arrival in Port Moresby for failing to pay a US$350 journalists' visa fee, which they say they weren't informed of during the accreditation process.
Papua New Guinea's immigration minister, Rimbink Pato, has promised to investigate the incident.
But a spokesperson for the Pacific Freedom Forum, Jason Brown, says the incident appears to be another case of the fourth estate being sidelined at the Pacific Islands Forum.
He told Jamie Tahana it's an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
JASON BROWN:Well it sounds like a basic disconnect between the hosts of the Forum meeting Papua New Guinea's foreign affairs ministry, the immigration ministry, and the insistence that media pay this one thousand kina access fee. Of course the Australian and New Zealand media were coming on official planes, our poorer Pacific cousins arriving under their own steam or with sponsorship were put through the mill.
JAMIE TAHANA: Did these journalists know there was a visa to be paid or anything?
JB: I imagine there might have been some information but they had a official accreditation and they were there for the meeting and usually once the forum is on it's open door policy at least as far as getting into the country is concerned but yes there seems to have been a major slip up there.
JT: So whose responsibility would it have been to inform these Pacific journalists before they arrived that they had to pay a visa fee?
JB: Well that question, as I understand it from reports from Papua New Guinea, the subject of an upcoming inquiry that's been ordered by the foreign affairs minister to find out exactly what happened. So it's great to see PNG is taking this seriously rather than just fobbing it off in a bureaucratic bungle and [saying] oh well never mind.
JT: The fact that a journalist, attending a major regional Forum is detained, it must be a worry to you.
JB: Indeed, and it's merely the latest in a long history of Forum meetings that treat the media very much as third class citizens, media being left out in the blazing sunshine in tropical climes, in pouring rain I mean, we're supposed to be the fourth estate. The governments all laud the media as being a vital part of democracy but when it comes to the actual pointy end of business, yes we get shuffled off to the side, ignored. It has real consequences for informing citizens, at home and around the region.
JT: You say Pacific journalists are treated far worse than any other, you know the Australian, New Zealand lot?
JB: Yes indeed, this is but one example. In terms of the Forum, the complaints have been long-standing, they seem to go nowhere. I guess another example would be at the home level where Pacific governments treat their own state, or public broadcasters with disdain, routinely sack anyone that asks too many hard questions.
JT: What would you like to see happen to improve the situation at future Forums?
JB: What we'd like to see is a repeat of the 1990 conference that was held in Rarotonga, which was a convention between government, media officials, and media leaders and representatives from around the region to sit down and try to hammer out these differences, now that's quarter of a century ago, there's been no follow up conference. We need to sit down, hammer out these differences and try and get the Forum and the media onto a level playing field that's so often talked about but very infrequently delivered.
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