photo from (pacific freedom forum)

October 29, 2019–Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS–Troubles for an Australian television crew stopped from filming in Kiribati this week have shown up a clash between news practice and sovereign law says regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

It’s the second time in recent years a foreign news crew visiting Kiribati has made global headlines  and PFF says the latest case involving a 5-person 60 Minutes crew set to return to Fiji from Kiribati on Thursday provides lessons all round.

“At this stage, the events probably signal a need for Kiribati to provide better media access rules and clear up perceptions the paperwork involved is aimed at keeping journalists out,” says PFF chair Bernadette Carreon, of Palau.

She says the situation of the 60 minutes news team losing their rights to film just one day into a four day visit, “provides room for both the government and foreign journalists to do better.”

The film crew had reportedly spent the last few days of their visit to Kiribati on notice to stop filming after their activities in Tarawa didn’t line up with their stated purpose for being in the country.

While Immigration officials have told regional news agency PacNews the team were in breach of their permits, their employers at Channel Nine have since corrected global media reports the team were detained under house arrest since they stopped filming on Tuesday, and given more paperwork submitted was rejected, they were expected to fly, as scheduled, from Tarawa to Nadi on Thursday.

“Any visiting film crew to many Pacific nations has to lodge forms and follow rules for their entry and the rules are more exacting for Kiribati.It’s a place which has very specific norms in an already small community where independent newsrooms don’t exist,” says Melanesia co-chair Ofani Eremae of the Solomon Islands.

“We’ve encouraged Kiribati and all Pacific governments to open up more and engage with the media. That’s clearly a work in progress, and we do respect that how they do so and when is a decision for the leaders to make,” says Eremae.

There’s been strong interest by regional and global media outlets reporting recent switches in recognition by Kiribati and the Solomon Islands from Taiwan to China, “and our Pacific nations caught up in China’s dollar diplomacy should expect their decisions to attract global media attention,” says PFF Polynesia co chair Monica Miller.

“It would be disappointing if the impact of the latest news crew visit to Tarawa led to tighter controls for all media coming to Kiribati. I’d hope we see better engagement and trust from both sides in ways that respect both the rule of law, and the role of journalists.”