Solomons broadcaster ‘free’ despite signs of government censorship

Wellington: The government of the Solomon Islands has taken tighter control over the nation’s state-owned broadcaster — a move that opponents say is squarely aimed at controlling and censoring the news.

The government said on Friday that the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, known as SIBC, would retain editorial control and that government officials would not censor or restrain the outlet.

Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.Credit:AP

But earlier this week, it had lashed out, accusing the broadcaster of a “lack of ethics and professionalism” and saying it had a duty to “protect our people from lies and misinformation” propagated by the SIBC.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Johnson Honimae, the SIBC chief executive, said he was proud of the broadcaster’s award-winning journalism.

He said it was business as usual and there were no government censors vetting stories, contrary to what was reported by some news outlets.

The government’s move came at a politically tumultuous time in the Solomon Islands.

There were riots in the capital of Honiara in November, followed by a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in December, which he survived. Then in April, Sogavare signed a security pact with China that has caused deep alarm in the Pacific and around the world.

The SIBC has reported those developments and has included the views of Sogavare’s opponents.

The broadcaster, which began as the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service, has been a fixture of the nation for 70 years.

Employing about 50 people and operating under the slogan “Voice of the nation”, it is the main source of radio and television news for the 700,000 population and is listened to and watched from the capital to the smallest village.

In late June, the government moved to delist the SIBC as a state-owned enterprise and take more direct control, saying it had failed to make a profit, something which has been expected of such state-owned businesses.

Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said on Wednesday the delisting was a scheme orchestrated by Sogavare as “a clear attempt to directly control and censor the news content of SIBC”.

“This will hijack well-entrenched principles of law on defamation and freedom-of-speech, thus depriving the public using SIBC to freely express their views, or accessing information on government activities,” Wale said.

Debris lies on the street outside damaged shops in Chinatown, Honiara, Solomon Islands after riots in November 2021. Credit:AP

Honimae told the AP the broadcaster took critical calls from Sogavare’s office in recent months.

“They believe we’ve been running too many stories from the opposition side, causing too much disunity,” Honimae said.

Honimae said the broadcaster and its staff won several journalism awards this year from the Media Association of Solomon Islands, including newsroom of the year and journalist of the year.

He also said the broadcaster played the national anthem when broadcasts began each day at 6am and again when they finish at 11pm.

“We believe we are a great force for unity and peace in this country,” Honimae said.

Honimae added it needed to “balance our stories more” and leave no opportunity for criticism.

He said Sogavare — who is also broadcasting minister — had said in Parliament that the government wouldn’t tamper with the broadcaster’s editorial independence.

“There is no censorship at the moment,” Honimae said. “We operate as professional journalists.”


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