11 Feb 2018

Kiribati government hits out at 'irresponsible' foreign journalists

10:06 pm on 11 February 2018

The Kiribati government has hit out at media organisations in Australia and New Zealand over their attempts to cover the aftermath of a ferry sinking.

The Butiraoi sank near the island of Nonouti last month, and is estimated to have killed anywhere between 80 and 100 people. Only seven people survived.

Two organisations, the ABC and New Zealand's Newshub, attempted to send journalists to cover the aftermath and the investigations, but they were prevented from doing so.

The Kiribati government says the journalists were not banned, but had permit issues.

The government said the ABC had applied for a special permit, but this was on hold because the government was reviewing and finalising its permit guidelines.

It said Newshub arrived without a permit: "It was made clear at the border that they cannot undertake any interview and filming activity. They were also requested to report to the office first thing in the morning for further interview on the purpose of their visit. Unfortunately, they did not report but proceed directly to find the Butiraoi survivors for an interview," the statement said.

The government also accused foreign media organisations of being insensitive to the tragedy in Kiribati, and not showing enough cultural awareness about how i-Kiribati are reacting.

"The media must acknowledge that this is Kiribati's biggest maritime disaster and it is important for Government given its sensitiveness and climatic fragility at this very moment that this undertaken carefully and truthfully by an independent Commission of Inquiry," it said.

However, the government is also under sustained pressure over its handling of the Butiraoi disaster, with mounting anger over how the tragedy could have happened.

The ferry is known to have been overloaded and was not carrying any kind of emergency locator equipment. It also took a government a week to alert search and rescue authorities in New Zealand.

An independent commission of inquiry has been launched.