Reporters Without Borders condemns Papua New Guinea's decision to temporarily ban visits by foreign journalists wanting to cover Australia's plans to reopen an old detention centre on Manus Island – an island belonging to PNG that lies off its northern coast – and use it for processing asylum seekers.
"It is vital that journalists should be able to cover this kind of development, especially when it concerns such as sensitive subject as refugees," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the PNG government to lift this ban at once so that reporters can cover the reopening of the centre."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on 13 August that her government would start sending asylum seekers to Christmas Island (an Australian territory) for processing by the end of September, and to Manus Island at a later date.
Australia's announced use of PNG territory to detain asylum-seekers is still very controversial in PNG. "There’s no law in PNG that allows people to be detained without being charged," said National Capital District governor Powes Parkop, a former member of the ruling coalition.
Sydney-based Fairfax Media has reported that two of its journalists submitted visa applications to visit Manus Island on 15 August. Their applications were approved by the PNG prime minister’s office within 24 hours but were then denied by the Immigration and Citizenship Service.
A spokesperson for the Immigration and Citizenship Service subsequently told Fairfax that the foreign minister had banned "the issuance of visas to foreign media personnel until further notice." Fairfax has appealed.
Foreign minister Rimbink Pato cited national security when defending the temporary ban in an interview on 24 August, saying it would prevent misreporting that could be ‘‘misinterpreted.’’ There was "no need for the access" at the moment, he said, adding that eventually "everyone will be invited to come and see what we’ve achieved."
PNG was ranked 35th out of 179 countries in the 2011/2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.