Solomon Islands orders national broadcaster SIBC not to report content critical of government

Solomon Islands orders national broadcaster SIBC not to report content critical of government

The Solomon Islands government has ordered the country’s national broadcaster to self-censor its news and other paid programs and only allow content that portrays the nation’s government in a positive light.

Staff at Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) confirmed to the ABC that acting chairman of the board William Parairato met with them last Friday to outline the new requirements.

They include vetting news and talkback shows to ensure they did not create disunity.

Mr Parairato had earlier attended a meeting with the Prime Minister’s office, the SIBC said.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has become critical of the public broadcaster, accusing SIBC of publishing stories that have not been verified or balanced with government responses.

Last month, SIBC was removed as a state-owned enterprise (SOE) and became fully funded by the government, raising concerns over the broadcaster’s independence.

The government defended the reclassification, saying it had a duty to protect its citizens from “lies and misinformation”.

It is unclear whether SIBC — which plays a vital role as a government watchdog — will be able to publish any news or statements from the opposition under the new regime.

Critics are concerned the new rules resemble media policies adopted by the Chinese Communist Party, and could essentially make SIBC a mouthpiece for the government.

Local reporters say the government has become less inclined to answer media questions since the country signed a secrity pact with China. (Photo by Yao Dawei/Xinhua via Getty)

Media Association of Solomon Islands president Georgina Kekea said there were growing fears the government would be influenced by its “new partner”, referring to the security patch recently signed between Solomon Islands and China.

“It really doesn’t come as a surprise,” she told the ABC.

“This is one of the things which we are fearful of for the past month or so now.

“We’ve been vocal on this issue, especially when it comes to freedom of the press and media doing its expected role.”

What impact will it have?

Honiara-based Melanesian News Network editor Dorothy Wickham said it was unclear how the development would play out.

An image of Solomon Island journalist Dorothy Wickham
Dorothy Wickham says she isn’t surprised by the move, given the government’s ongoing criticism of the media. (Supplied: Dorothy Wickham )

“We haven’t seen this happen before,” she said.

“If the opposition gets on SIBC and starts criticizing government policies, which every opposition does … would the government disallow SIBC to air that story or that interview? That is the question that we’re asking.”

Officials have denied taking full control of SIBC’s editorial policy, saying it just wants the broadcaster to be more responsible because it’s a government entity.

But University of South Pacific journalism professor Shailendra Singh said the government’s intentions were clear.

“There seems to be no doubt that the government is determined to take control of the national broadcaster, editorially and financially,” he told ABC’s The World Today.

“I don’t think there’s any way the government can be stopped.

“This latest move by the government, what it has done with the SIBC, is bring it closer to media in a communist system than in a democracy.”

Press freedoms dwindling

Local media have been vocal about increased government secrecy, the closing of doors and controlled dissemination of information from the prime minister’s office.

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