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The Opposition today called on the Government to be realistic and cautious on the international signals they send on Papua New Guinea.

Deputy Leader of Opposition Honourable Sam Basil warned the Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill that “banning of foreign journalists – and with a major human rights issue like asylum seekers – is a bad omen” whether it is temporary or long term.

“We have always been a vibrant, democratic nation running our own affairs transparently amid the international spotlight. What’s the reason for the sudden change now?” Mr Basil said.

“Banning foreign journalists – and on a major human rights issue like asylum seekers – is a bad omen on the way the O’Neill Government intends to do business in Papua New Guinea. Mr Pato as a lawyer should know better about defending human rights and the role of journalists.

“Have we got things to hide? We have joined the world in disdaining dollar diplomacy. But what about what Australia will give – and/do for Papua New Guinea in Manus – for us to re-open the controversial Manus Asylum Seekers Processing Centre?”

Mr Basil said that while the Government has a duty to protect the national interest which may include bilateral engagement with Australia, Papua New Guinea as part of the global village has a duty to ensure that humanitarian issues are dealt with under the international media spotlight.

“No Government – big or small – aid donor or aid recipient – should be allowed to handle humanitarian issues in the dark. The media – and foreign journalists in particular – have demonstrated that public exposure they bring can defuse bad decisions and their dire implications on the people.

“The ill-advised Sandline International initiative undertaken by the Chan-Haiveta Government in 1997 which would have resulted in the State-sponsored slaughter of Bougainvilleans – PNG’s own citizens - and forcefully opened the Panguna Mine by mercenaries is a classic example.

“The newspaper article by Sydney Morning Herald’s journalist then Mary-Louise O’Callaghan defused that and caused the Government to back-track,” Mr Basil said, adding sometimes due to cultural pressure local journalists can shy away from publishing such stories,” the Deputy Leader said.

“While nations may not like fly-in fly-out journalists, they have their specific role in assisting developing nations like Papua New Guinea with the intense scrutiny they bring on Governments – including their own developed countries’ governments.

“Aside from that, Mr Pato should know that practically, foreign journalists who apply for visas often have to wait for a long time before they are issued – and news does not wait for visas to be issued before it happens,” Mr Basil said.