LET there be no mistake: Foreign journalists do have access to PNG, whether it be one operating in Peru, Azerbaijan or Timbuktu.
They have the local media whose work is published instantaneously on the worldwide web.
They have the social networks. They have the non-governmental organisations. Many have local contacts.
What the fortnight-old government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has done in banning foreign journalists from entering the country to cover the Manus detention centre issue is to take a highly inflammatory decision which can have no real impact except to
attract criticism and bad publicity.
All the issues are out in the public. The PNG government has made its decision: The centre on Manus island will be available to asylum seekers which the Australian government wishes to detain for processing.
The Manus people, or as many of them as the governor can speak for, have come out in support of the government decision.
Governor Charlie Benjamin has said Manus was used before for the same purpose in the 1960s to process West Papuan refugees and a number of times by the Australian government to process asylum seekers.
He said Manus had never benefited from these past actions but, this time around, he has put in a strong demand for socio-economic benefits.
He is confident his people will benefit.
The opposition yesterday described the decision by the government to ban journalists as a “bad omen” and warned government to be careful about the signals it is sending to the international community, particularly with a major human
rights issue like asylum seekers.
Many activists and ordinary people have used the social media to voice their opinion on the issue either way.
So, what is it the government does not wish the international media to see or to report and discuss?
The answer is “nothing”.
The government has just made a bad decision and the sooner it realises this and reverses it, the better.
If anything, in banning journalists, it has popularised the issue even more and perhaps even hinted at there being something
that the government does not wish for the world to see.
There might be something there but we in The National see nothing controversial or confusing that the international media will befuddle further to the detriment of the country’s reputation.
Indeed, international media will now report on all that is going out from PNG, using whatever sources it can pin down – whether the sources are reliable and ferrying the truth or not will be secondary.
It really is a pity because international focus in pictures and stories would have revealed the state of the proposed site for the detention and ensure pressure is brought upon the Australian government to spend more resources on bringing the centre up to meet international standards. Both for the local economy and for the inhabitants of the centre, this would have been a good thing.
We do agree with and pose the same question deputy opposition leader Sam Basil is asking: “Have we got things to hide?”
We do not, however, think that PNG is giving in to pressure or is pursuing dollar diplomacy. Turning boat people back at sea has seen horrendous accidents and a high toll for those dead.
We also agree that no country, Australia or others, ought to take in everybody seeking refuge just because they have sailed in on a boat. Decent processing ought to be done.
There is nothing wrong with that at all. What we do agree with the opposition is this statement by Basil: “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 can defuse bad decisions and their
dire implications on the people.
“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.”