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O'Neill Distances Himself From Foreign Minister 'Media Ban'

O'Neill Distances Himself From 'Media Ban' Imposed By Foreign Minister

By Henry Yamo

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Pacific Scoop / Pacific Media Watch): Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill declared today there was no ban on foreign journalists entering the country and they were free to travel there anytime – contradicting his own foreign minister.

Contradicting recent reports that foreign media had been barred by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Rimbink Pato, he said no restriction was in place and journalists were free to go to the country.

“Restrictions only applied during the period when the asylum detention centre facilities were being inspected and assessed by members of the Australian government. We did not want any media interference during this process,” he said.

Inconsistent messages
However, this contrasts with the PNG Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister’s comments released today that the ban was in place.

“As the minister responsible, I have instructed all the PNG Heads of Overseas Missions, that all foreign media personnel are not to be granted visas to travel to Manus to cover the issue,” Pato said.

O’Neill said the asylum detention centre in Manus Province would be an issue discussed with Australian leaders during the Pacific Island Leaders Forum.

O’Neill said there was an understanding with PNG and Australia already in place, according to an agreement signed between the two countries 2003, 2005 and in 2011.

“As a government we are familiar with the issue of the asylum seekers’ centre, and as a partner to the agreements, we as a government have an obligation to help the Australian Government establish the processing centre in Manus Province,” O’Neill said.

He said he had held talks with his Australian counterpart on the issue and would like to see it developed into a regional processing centre that could cater not only for asylum seekers, but for other illegal immigrants who came through the “back door” of many Pacific countries where there was lack of surveillance and processes to deal with illegal immigrants.

Regional concern
Prime Minister O’Neill said PNG was looking forward to working with the Australian government to address this issue which was also a regional concern. He hoped that the centre eventually became a regional processing point.

Regarding upkeep of the facilities, he said it was an issue for the Australian government because the agreements stated clearly that Canberra would be responsible for the infrastructure and its maintenance.

He said the government was also talking to the Manus provincial government which was keen on participating and was willing to accommodate the asylum seekers.

Henry Yamo is a Papua New Guinean postgraduate communication studies student at AUT University reporting with the Cook Islands News team.

* See previous reports on PMW website:

PNG media ban on foreign journalists criticised by opposition

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