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Solomon Islands

Broadcaster denies govt censorship

There is no one vetting editorial and on air content at the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, claims the head of the government broadcaster Johnson Honimae.

Almost a fortnight ago, acting chairman of the SIBC Board, Dr William Parairato met with staff of SIBC and informed them that any news or talkback show must go through a vetting process to make sure it does not create disunity.

This was after the Solomon Islands Government removed the SIBC as being a State Owned Enterprise and reverted it to being a statutory authority to be governed by the Broadcasting Act of 1977.

Under this act, the prime minister has the authority to direct the broadcaster to broadcast news or items deemed of national interest.

Initial request for comments from Mr Honimae were left unanswered, however this week he said the organisation has maintained its editorial integrity but agreed that there may be a need to provide greater balance to stories especially those where there was criticism.

It was put to Mr Honimae by The Pacific Advocate if there were censors vetting stories that go on air and if the government had control of the editorial content.

“It’s a big NO to all your questions. Its business as usual. There is no one from the prime minister’s office sitting down in our newsroom vetting stories and programs as some media are saying. That would not be in the spirit of the SIBC Act,” Mr Honimae said.

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“Let us get the facts straight before we start issuing public statements.”

There is no one vetting editorial and on air content at the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, claims the head of the government broadcaster Johnson Honimae. Picture: Johnson Honimae Facebook

While Mr Honimae has played down the move, there is no disputing that the Solomon Islands Government has taken tighter control over the broadcaster.

The government had accused SIBC of lacking ethics and professionalism and said it was its duty to protect people from lies and misinformation.

The year has been full of turmoil for the Solomon Islands Government which started with a security deal with China, the full provisions of which are yet to be made public.

This was followed by the government pushing a bill in the parliament to allow amendments to its constitution so next year’s election could be delayed by a year.

This has not gone down well with the public nor the opposition who are very critical of every move, especially of stifling the broadcaster.

Radio still has the most reach in the Solomon Islands and the government is also concerned that local programs are being used by the opposition to spread fake information and lies.

This is something the government has stressed in various statements.

For now, SIBC claims that they remain independent.

SIBC operates two national radio stations, Radio Happy Isles and Wantok FM, and two local ones, Radio Happy Lagoon in Western Province, and Radio Temotu in Temotu Province along with a national television service and an online platform.

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The censoring of news and on air content at Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation could be something straight out of a Chinese Government playbook.

From Monday, all news for broadcast at the radio station is being vetted by a government censor who sees what news is deemed pro government. Anything critical of the government is being kept off the airwaves.

There is outrage in the Pacific and in the country itself, and fears that this could spark off a trend in Pacific nations where laws could be introduced to control media in the region.

This brings back memories of the 2006 Fiji Coup. Following withdrawal of support from the Pacific Islands Forum, the then interim Fijian government turned to China, and this was immediately followed by censorship of any news critical of the interim government, eventually leading to the highly criticised Media Act to govern media in the country.

It happened to the extent where journalists were locked up for writing critical stories.

There is widespread knowledge of how China controls its media and China’s relationship with the Solomon Islands has been flourishing.

The censoring of news and on air content at Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation could be something straight out of a Chinese Government playbook. Picture: Elvis Bwaa Twitter

If this was not enough, it is claimed that Chinese police officers are being embedded in Solomon Islands Police management roles to overhaul the force.

For the SIBC saga, acting chairman of the SIBC Board, Dr William Parairato met with staff of SIBC last week and informed them that any news or talkback show must go through a vetting process to make sure it does not create disunity.

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Since Monday, SIBC staff have confirmed that there was a government censor present in the office who was vetting stories before it went to air.

Last week, the Solomon Islands Government removed the SIBC as being a State Owned Enterprise and reverted it to being a statutory authority to be governed by the Broadcasting Act of 1977.

Under this act, the prime minister has the authority to direct the broadcaster to broadcast news or items deemed of national interest.

The front page of the Island Sun. Picture: Twitter

SIBC chief executive Jonathan Honimae was contacted on Monday for comment. He said he had just returned from leave and was going through documentation to familiarise himself with the changes. Since then he has refused to make any comments.

A Pacific Advocate correspondent in Honiara said SIBC has the most reach in terms of media in the Solomon Islands and controlling its editorial content will boost the government’s hold on power.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said: “The censoring of the Solomon Islands’ national broadcaster is an assault on press freedom and an unacceptable development for journalists, the public, and the democratic political process. The IFJ calls for the immediate reinstatement of independent broadcasting arrangements in the Solomon Islands.”

Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said this is an attempt to directly control and censor the news content of SIBC.

The Solomon Islands police are being prepped for future riots. Picture: Royal Solomon Islands Police Force

“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,” he said in a statement.

He said it was a “bad and regrettable decision that lacked any sensible policy rationale and a threat to press freedom in the country”.

He said that reporting truth and fair comment was justifiable even if it hurt, and that courts must be able to order payment of compensation to any person aggrieved by any report by SIBC or any other media outlet.

Senior journalist in the Solomon Islands Dorothy Wickham tweeted: “If we Solomon Islanders start accepting that government can control SIBC then we allow too much. So now no one can just call SIBC from around the country to complain. We must not allow it to go further!”

Questions sent to the Solomon Islands Government remain unanswered.

3 Comments
  1. Henry Tonaga 1 week ago
    Reply

    This is an act of the communist policy. Our government leaders should not entertain this type of system. This is not a way of democracy.

  2. VT 1 week ago
    Reply

    Last century it was Imperial Japan… today it’s Communist China! Pacific island leaders would be foolish to ignore this second Asian invasion! The CCP (together with the PLA) is implementing its 21st century plan for Pasifika… read their Document 9 and be aware!

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    It would be very hard to believe that not one individual in the Solomons and Fijian ruling regimes benefitted – in cash or kind, from Xi’s “generosity”. They need to be voted out if we are to have any hope of preserving our democratic freedoms… That’s what our Fijian forefathers bled for in the Bougainville and Guadalcanal campaigns during that first Asian invasion!

  3. Rex Stephen 1 week ago
    Reply

    what has been experienced by Fiji media some years ago has now on our shores.But we Private radios like Barava Fm and Zfm to step up to be the voices of our people.And we also have strong independent news papers co. like Island Sun ,Business Magazine and Solomon Star that will continue to do excellent job in reporting and entertaining the nation. When one door is closed ,more doors will open.

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