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Ejected newspaperman says Vanuatu "quieting" press

The media director of the “Vanuatu Daily Post” was denied a new work permit last week by the Vanuatu Government in what he is calling a “blatant attempt” to quiet a critical news media.

In a statement posted to social media, the newspaper’s media director for the last 16 years Dan McGarry said this is a “sad day for media freedom in Vanuatu.

“The overt reason is that my position should have been localised by now, but we all know the real reason,” he said.

“The Daily Post reporting on the Government’s activities has caused such discomfort that they are willing to abuse administrative processes to silence me.”

The Government of Vanuatu has said Mr. McGarry’s position should have been filled by a local Ni-Vanuatu in the 16 years he held the post.

But Mr. McGarry, who is Canadian, and his supporters say the call does not hold water on administrative grounds and are fighting it with an appeal to an independent panel. 

“And if that fails we can take it to judicial review and we are willing to fight this out as long as it takes because the precedent that this sets not only for the media but all of Vanuatu businesses is quite dangerous,” he said.

“It basically allows the government to operate by fiat and that is not something that we can allow.”

His announcement on Twitter has been shared more than 70 times by well-wishers in the media industry, long time readers and academics.

Democracy Watch News President Dean Edwards responded: “Sad day when a critical voice in the Goodway is silenced and told to leave the country! This does not serve the people of Vanuatu nor the world.”

In a piece published in the “Daily Post”, the paper’s director Marc Neil-Jones wrote that the decision to deny another work permit to Mr. McGarry is direct Government interference, and “makes a mockery of private sector led growth.

“We are being blatantly forced to localize a very senior expatriate position in our 100 per cent Ni Vanuatu owned company,” he said. 

“This is direct Government interference in the running of a private company in direct competition to their own V.B.T.C. (Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation) and makes a mockery of private sector led growth. 

“This action will clearly compromise our ability to develop our company as we wish and will be perceived as a direct attack on media freedom.”

Mr. Neil-Jones called out senior Government ministers and the Prime Minister Charlot Salwai for being behind the rejection, “because they are not happy with some of his news items.

“It has nothing to do with localisation,” he said. 

“We urge this Government to not use this Work Permit Amendment Act to get rid of expatriates they do not like and as this precedent is dangerous and opens up the doors to abuse.”

One of the stories he cites as having upset the government is Mr. McGarry’s July exposé about the Chinese Government arresting and deporting Chinese nationals living in Vanuatu who have Vanuatu passports without lawyers or following due process. 

“Under a veil of secrecy, China has convinced Vanuatu to enforce Chinese law within its own borders,” he wrote. 

In the fall out, several organisations have come out in support of Mr. McGarry, including the Media Association of Vanuatu and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance in Australia.

ABC News Pacific Affairs Reporter Liam Fox wrote: “Vanuatu's full of foreign con men, spivs and carpetbaggers and yet the Government wants to turf out [Dan McGarry]. Bad for the country, bad for media freedom.”

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday, Mr. McGarry said the issue is simple.

“I spoke out, and was punished for telling the truth,” he said.

Attempts to reach the Vanuatu government for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful. 

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