Solomon Islands tighter control over state broadcaster

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The government of the Solomon Islands has tightened control over the nation’s state-owned television station – a move that opponents say is aimed at controlling and censoring 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 restrict release.

But earlier this week, the government lashed out at the shopkeeper, accusing it of “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, SIBC chief executive, said he was proud of the broadcaster’s award-winning journalism.

This is normal business for broadcasters, he said, and no government censors check stories before they air, contrary to what is reported by some news outlets.

The government’s move comes at a time of political turmoil in the Solomon Islands.

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

SIBC reported those developments and included views of Sogavare’s competitors.

The broadcaster, which started as the Solomon Islands Television Service, has been in permanent operation for 70 years in the Solomon Islands.

Employing about 50 people and operating under the slogan “Voice of the Nation”, the television station is the main source of radio and television news for 700,000 people nationwide and is heard and watched from the capital to the villages. smallest village.

At the end of June, the government announced the delisting of SIBC as a state-owned enterprise and taking more direct control, saying that the broadcaster had not made a profit, which such state-owned enterprises had failed to make. expectations.

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

“This would violate the firm principles of defamation law and free speech, thereby leaving the public using SIBC free to express their views or access information about activities,” said Wale. government action.

Honimae told the AP that the broadcaster had received important calls from Sogavare’s office in recent months.

“They believe we ran too many stories from the opposition, causing too much disunity,” Honimae said.

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

He also said the TV station plays the national anthem when the broadcasts start each morning at 6am and again when it ends at 11pm.

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

Honimae added that the broadcaster needed to “more balance our story” and leave no room for criticism.

He said Sogavare – who is also the government’s broadcasting minister – had told Parliament that the government would not disturb the editorial independence of the broadcaster.

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

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