Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has distanced himself from the simmering friction between Nauru and Australia over President Baron Waqa’s decision to ban the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (A.B.C.) from covering the upcoming Forum meeting.
Tuilaepa, who is also the Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, said the ban on A.B.C. is not the first time a host country for the Forum meeting has made such a decision.
“This is not new,” he said during his weekly media programme yesterday. “It has happened before where some media from New Zealand were banned.
I can’t remember exactly if it was Fiji who banned Mike Field, all because of them being careless with their reports.”
Asked for a comment as the Chairman of the Forum, Tuilaepa said the President of Nauru is free to make decisions to suit what his country wants.
“We have no right in the matter, he’s making decisions in accordance to their rules since they are the ones who will host the Forum next,” Tuilaepa said.
“But I guess what they really don’t want are media people who write bad stories.”
Tuilaepa said negative stories is what some journalists write “when they want to sell their stories to make some money so” they stretch the truth.
He did not name anyone in particular.
“As for Samoa, we’ve never banned any media people,” Tuilaepa said. “Our skins have grown so thick from absorbing the (negative) stories written by our own journalists.”
The ban announced by the Nauru government in a media statement earlier this week has been widely condemned by the Pacific media.
In a statement, the President of the Pacific Island News Association (P.I.N.A.), Kora Nou urged Nauru and Australia to use the ‘Pacific Way’ to resolve the issue.
“If current media reports are indeed true about the ABC being denied entry to Nauru to cover the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit in Nauru, we appeal to the Government of Nauru to rescind its decision and allow ABC journalists to cover this meeting in September,” the statement reads.
“This is the highest political gathering where our regional leaders, as well as regional media, look forward to attending every year.
“The P.I.F. arrangement is close to the hearts of the Pacific people and I’m pretty confident that if both parties sat down in our own unique Pacific Way and discussed the matter, it will be amicably resolved.”
Pacific media watchdog group, Pacific Freedom Forum, has also criticised the ban.
"The reasons provided by the Nauru government simply do not justify cutting off independent news reporting of a regional event to the people of the Pacific, by a leading Pacific broadcaster," P.F.F. Chair, Monica Miller, is quoted as saying in a statement.
"We call on the Nauru government to reconsider this stance, and use the public complaints mechanisms to raise its concerns as stated."
Ms. Miller said the P.I.F. Summit gives appearances of unity among member countries but the move by Nauru to stop journalists from one member of the PIF to be in Nauru to cover the Summit is a divisive move.
"The Nauru government states it's exercising a sovereign right, but this is a regional event and the A.B.C. is the public broadcaster of a Forum Member."
The Pacific Islands Forum says it stands by the principles of open and free media, but it's refrained from making any comments that either criticise or support Nauru's decision to ban the A.B.C.,
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat says while it supports media freedom, it points out that the media also have responsibility to be factual in their reporting.
Last night, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Nauru ignored the Turnbull government's appeals against the decision.
Fairfax Media claimed that the Turnbull government lobbied through diplomatic channels for weeks in the hope of securing the public broadcaster a place in a small press pack accompanying the Prime Minister for the September meeting.