Māori Television’s Native Affairs story on West Papua was the first New Zealand television crew allowed into the Indonesian-ruled Melanesian region in 50 years.
Given Indonesia’s strict policy on allowing access to foreign journalists, reporter Adrian Stevanon said their trip was a sign of change.
“I think the achievement is that we are able to build some sort of awareness here in New Zealand, that’s the real achievement,” he said.
Having applied to go to West Papua for the last three years, Stevanon took an interest in a region that many people know little about.
“With so much that’s been reported right, even from a region where you can’t really report freely, I thought it was important to try and go have a look for myself, and Native Affairs prides itself on telling stories that you won’t find anywhere else – so that’s one of the reasons that I was really keen to see if we could get into the region.”
Karen Abplanalp, an independent journalist and photographer, who wrote an award- winning article on New Zealand’s involvement in the Freeport mine, was also a crew member.
She decided to do her master’s thesis at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre on the restrictions for foreign journalists in West Papua and said, for her first time there, she did not know what to expect.
“For me the primary concern was we had no idea what it would be like to be foreign journalists there, and you don’t know what the reception is going to be like towards you,” she said.
“Because you know of the reports that people are being watched and followed, the first wee while, in fact, nearly all of the time you were checking to see who was watching and whether or not you were going to get stopped.”
Independent New Zealand journalist Paul Bensemann has covered the region for years and praises the show, but said more needed to be done.
“I salute Native Affairs and Māori TV for the effort they took to get a visa – it wasn’t easy – and for being able to interview Papuan people, an amazing achievement. So it’s a step forward, but it’s not a step forward in the political area,” he said.
“The political discussion has not yet taken place on an open basis with foreign journalists in Papua.”