Censorship fears as Solomon Islands government tightens control over state broadcasting

The Solomon Islands government has tighter control of state-owned radio – a move opponents say is aimed squarely at controlling and censoring the news.
The government this week accused the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) of “lack of morals and professionalism” and said it had a duty to “protect our people from lies and misinformation, especially when these lies and misinformation are spread by the citizens of the broadcaster.”

But in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, SIBC CEO Johnson Honemai said he’s proud of the award-winning journalism.

He said that business was proceeding as usual and there was no government censor checking the news before it was broadcast, contrary to what was reported by some news outlets.
The government’s criticism comes at a politically turbulent time in the Solomon Islands.
Riots erupted in the capital Honiara last November, followed by a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari in December, which he survived.
Then in April, Sugavari signed a security pact with China that caused great alarm in the Pacific and around the world.

SIBC has reported on these developments, including the views of Sogavari’s opponents.

The broadcaster, which started as a radio service for the Solomon Islands, has been a staple for the past 70 years.
Employing about 50 people and operating under the slogan “Voice of the Nation”, the broadcaster remains the main source of radio and television news for the island’s 700,000 residents and is listened to and watched from the capital to the smallest village.
In late June, the government moved to remove SIBC from its list of state-owned companies and direct control, saying it had failed to turn a profit.
Opposition leader Matthew Weil said Wednesday that the delisting was a plot orchestrated by Sugavari “as an apparent attempt to control and directly censor SIBC’s news content.”

“It would hijack established principles of law on defamation and freedom of expression, thus denying the public the use of the SIBC to freely express their views, or access to information about government activities,” said Mr. Wahl.

Honemai said the broadcaster had received calls from Sugavari’s office in recent months.
“They think we have published a lot of stories from the opposition side, which has caused a lot of discord,” Honemai said.
According to Mr. Honimai, the broadcaster and his staff have won several recent journalistic awards, including Editorial Room of the Year and Journalist of the Year.

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

He said the broadcaster needed to “balance our stories further” and leave no opportunity for criticism, noting that Mr. Sugavari – who is also the Broadcasting Minister – had said in Parliament that the government would not manipulate the broadcaster’s editorial independence.
“There is no censorship at the moment,” Honemai said.

“We work as professional journalists.”

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