The media are fairly free, but in 2002, the government barred the entry of foreign journalists, mostly Australians, to prevent them reporting on a refugee camp set up in the country by Australia, and on the situation during general elections.

The foreign ministry began systematically refusing visa applications from foreign journalists from March 2002 without explanation. Australian photo-journalist Mathias Heng was one of them. Greg Roberts, of the Sydney Morning Herald, was the first reporter to reach the refugee camp on the island of Manus, using a tourist visa and pretending to be a birdwatcher.

Soon after getting into the naval base where 360 asylum-seeking refugees, 80 per cent of them Iraqis, were being held, he was expelled by private security guards headed by a former Rhodesian policeman. The next day he was told the Papuan police and army were looking for him and left the island soon afterwards.

Papuan foreign ministry official Lawrence Bunbun admitted that the Australian government had asked for all access to the refugees be refused on the excuse that their identity had to be protected. The camp was entirely funded by Australia, which refused to allow new refugees into its own territory. Doctors in nearby hospitals said some of the refugees had caught malaria and others had tuberculosis and typhoid.

Evan Williams, of the Australian TV station ABC, attacked the Papua New Guinea government, in a programme on 17 April, for continuing to refuse journalists entry to the country because of the Manus camp. He had managed to take pictures of the camp after getting into the country secretly.

Visa applications made by journalists several weeks before the June general elections were processed very slowly by the foreign ministry. The regional press freedom body Pacific Media Watch criticised the hostility of the authorities towards journalists. Two days after the elections, which were marred by many violent incidents, former prime minister Bill Stake appealed to the international community to persuade the government to drop its ban on foreign journalists.

A soldier threatened to kill Robyn Sela, an investigative reporter with the daily Post-Courier, on 4 October while she was at a barracks in Port Moresby. The soldier objected to articles she had recently written about defence secretary Fred Punangi, who had been accused of embezzlement. "We'll get you," he told her, before an officer intervened. Three days later, the army command told the press that military police were trying to identify the soldier and that he would be punished.

Kevin Pamba, an academic and contributor to the daily paper The National, was attacked and threatened on 27 November at a police station in the northern town of Madang. He had been arrested for questioning about an article reporting an eviction police had carried out. They accused him of giving them a bad name with their superiors and demanded a front-page apology or else they would sue for libel. He said one of the police threatened twice to slash his face with a knife. He was freed when an inspector intervened and had cuts and bruises.


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