When you want ask the Nauruan government for a media comment (say, a response to reports aired on 7.30 last night of rape and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru), you get the country’s Australian PR flack, Lyall Mercer. And if you work for the ABC, it turns out you get nothing at all. Mercer replied to ABC journo Hayden Cooper’s questions with an email that said: “Due to continued unbalanced and inaccurate coverage of Nauru by the ABC we will not respond to this request.”

“We can only assume that the ABC does not wish to report the facts and that political activism has replaced ethical journalism, therefore we will not be cooperating on this occasion,” Mercer said.

It’s not the first time Mercer has butted heads with Cooper, telling the journo earlier this year “How dare you ask questions like this? We will be making an official complaint to the ABC. Do not contact us again.”

So who is this Australian who acts as a gatekeeper to the Nauruan government?

Mercer is based in Brisbane and runs his own public relations company, where his clients include the Nauruan government, the Hillsong Church and theQueensland Liberal National Party. Mercer’s Twitter account is now private, but he’s previously used the platform to berate journalists who reported on Nauru. In 2012, Mercer was paid by Channel Nine’s A Current Affair to organise an interview with the wife of convicted murderer Max Sica.

While Mercer’s tweets are private, the Republic of Nauru account seemed to respond to the story overnight and this morning:

This account has also previously criticised the ABC, saying “they hate balance”.

The Australian press is already severely limited in its ability to report on what happens in detention centres — access to the centres is impossible, and staff who speak to journalists face jail time under the new Border Force Act.

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Peter Fray

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