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Banned Journalist Speaks Out

By NOORA ALI :
August 9, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA: Veteran regional correspondent Michael Field has strongly condemned his latest banning by a South Pacific Government.

Field was barred this week by the Nauru Government from covering the South Pacific Forum next week.

He was the first journalist banned from a Forum last year by the host nation Kiribati. He has also been barred from Tonga.

New Zealander Field told Wansolwara Online "I have been banned for covering a story I have really cared about."

International media freedom organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres yesterday protested to Nauru President Rene Harris.

As New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said she would raise the issue with Nauru, Field gave candid views about the banning to Wansolwara.

"What worries me, more than anything else, is that this is a signal against all journalists who work in the Pacific that this degree of oppression and control and manipulation is now politically acceptable," Field said.

Field has covered 10 Forums in previous years before the Kiribati banning.

"I was last in Nauru in 1993 when I attended the Pacific Forum there," he said in an email interview. "I am one of the few journalists who routinely and regularly covers the country and I have always felt they are important and have a story to tell.

"I have always been moved by the ultimate tragedy in their story - a people who until around 1900 were living in a place called 'Paradise Island'. Then it was discovered their top soil was rich in phosphate and it was needed for the farms of Australia and New Zealand.

"I come from a farming background. I always remember the planes spreading super phosphate across the paddocks - that super phosphate was the land of the Nauruans.

"Then the Japanese invaded, and killed half of the people, enslaved them. And later, when they returned, and finally won independence, they suddenly were flooded with more money and wealth than they could ever imagine. And it destroyed them; their health, their souls.

"The story is sad and it is a story that most people do not care about.

"Lately - over the last four or five years -- Nauru has developed its tax havens and its money laundering and I have been covering it. Indeed, for a long time, I was the only reporter in print seriously watching what was going on.

"There are elements of crime and terrorism in this story and there are tales of greed and extravagance. As a journalist it has been irresistible. It has also been compelling to watch the successive leadership of Nauru sell the souls of their people to what is essentially Russian crime.

"I have thus been banned for covering a story I have really cared about. The problem, in a way, is that caring about this has made me feel passionate about the story and got me places which, in the end, those with power and influence, did not want me to go.

"So now, I am banned from attending the Pacific Forum. I do not feel personally sad about this - there are other things to do."

But Field added that he felt "very depressed about the fate of the craft I love and for the future of the reporters" who shared the region.

"It is important that we stop this kind of outrage, or the craft of journalism will be crushed in the Pacific."

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE:
http://www.pmw.c2o.org


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