Upon arrival in Kiribati on Monday, Newshub journalist Michael Morrah and his cameraman had their passports taken from them.
Morrah said officials told them they needed a “research permit”.
They were told the permit requirement was put in place after a recent controversial documentary reporting on climate change.
“They took us to the immigration headquarters and quizzed us for four hours. They were curious to know how we’d found out about the sinking and seemed to be unaware that it had been headline news around the world for the past fortnight.”
Morrah said their endeavours to speak with the survivors and other connected with the tragedy wouldn’t have impacted on the government investigation.
He said many i-Kiribati were desperate to find out what had happened.
“People I spoke to on the ground when I was there were very keen to understand why the ferry sank, why the alarm wasn’t raised until eight days after the sinking and whether the MV Butiraoi should have been at sea in the first place.
Morah said they were eventually able to interview the ferry owner and some of the survivors.
Later officials requested they delete their footage and were told they couldn’t cover the sinking of the ferry because it was a very sensitive matter .
They were told that while the government investigated the incident, it didn’t want foreign journalists interfering or interviewing people.
“We were asked to stop filming, and they wanted to see our interview with the survivors. After we showed them a copy, they said they wanted the original deleted. So we all returned to our hotel, showed them our computer and then deleted the footage in front of them.
“While we did manage to get two stories out there was a lot more work to be done.”
“The people here, especially those who are now without their children, their mothers or their fathers deserve some answers.
“I don’t hold anything against the immigration officials. For the most part they were friendly, polite and just doing their job.
“But Kiribati’s policy of stopping foreign journalists from covering such a significant event is a step backwards for democracy in this tiny nation.
“It’s unnecessary, draconian and does nothing to promote the ideals of openness and transparency.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also been told “no” after requesting to cover the tragedy. - PNC
Journalists forced to delete news files
KIRIBATI – The Kiribati government has banned a New Zealand TV crew from reporting on the MV Butiraoi ferry disaster.
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The Cook Islands News Team