The continuing crisis on Manus Island provides some particular challenges for media trying to report on it. It’s an expensive trip for reporters at cash- and resource-strapped news outlets, and, even if they’re willing to send someone, getting a visa is a struggle.
SBS told Media Watch a few weeks ago they’d been turned down for a visa to cover the closure of the centre, and Fairfax said its photographer was refused entry. The Australian‘s defence reporter Rory Callinan spent days trying to get to the detention centre while on Manus Island after it was shut down earlier this month.
So how are Australian news organisations covering the ongoing unrest?
There are a few reporters on the island doing their own original reporting. The ABC’s Pacific Affairs correspondent Liam Fox travelled to Manus Island, and was filing stories as it closed. His colleague, Papua New Guinea correspondent Eric Tlozek was covering updates since before the processing centre closed. And The Australian‘s Callinan has also filed on his trip.
The Guardian‘s Ben Doherty has spent some time on Manus Island reporting, as has The New York Times‘ Australia bureau chief Damien Cave.
Talking to people on the ground
Probably the best you can do if you don’t have anyone on location, reporting from Australia but speaking to those who are there is another method outlets are using. Some of the former detainees have been in touch with journalists directly, including journalist Behrouz Boochani. On Friday, World Vision CEO Tim Costello was giving interviews (including to Crikey) on what he was seeing on the ground. Amnesty International’s Kate Schuetze has also been available for interviews. Other reporters have been speaking to the detainees, officials and other workers on Manus Island to bring news of the situation to Australians.
Social media has been informing most of the reporting on what is actually happening on the island. Reports last week of arrests as Papua New Guinea police moved in on the center were, for the most part, based around Twitter posts by detainees, including videos and photos of what was happening in real-time.
Political and activist sources
When reporters aren’t relying on their own direct sources on the island, on social media or otherwise, they’re getting their material from interest groups and politicians, and not even that is always direct.
Controversial activist group GetUp has been supplying journalists with information, footage and photographs from the island. It surprisingly gave the Daily Telegraph a suite of exclusive images of the closed centre.
Amnesty International has been providing information from the ground to journalists, and politicians’ reports have also been providing fresh angles on the closure. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s 3AW interview in early November was interpreted in very different ways by different outlets: The Australian took his comments as a story of detainees committing sexual assault, while Fairfax reports wrote it up as a warning against any violence on the island.
Greens Senator Nick McKim also travelled to Manus Island and has been a key source on what’s going on on the island — he was available for interviews in the immediate aftermath of the centre’s closure with Lateline, and Sky News among others.