Censoring public broadcaster . . .
The Government of Solomon Islands has ordered the country's radio and television broadcaster, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), to self-censor anti-government voices and criticism in its news media, talk shows, and radio programs and only allow content casting the government in a positive light. Last month, SIBC lost its state-owned enterprise (SOE) classification. The change makes SIBC financially dependent on government funding (rather than an SOE able to engage in profit-making activities) and casts doubt on its ability to remain an autonomous news agency. SIBC now answers to a government-appointed board of directors, with members chosen solely by the Prime Minister’s office. Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has been increasingly critical of the public broadcaster, accusing SIBC of publishing misinformation and excessive opposition coverage, thus fostering social disunity.
Shutting the press out . . .
SIBC is a crucial source of information, including on disaster relief management, for many living in rural or remote areas. The country also has low adult literacy rates (77% of people over 15) compared to the regional average (91%), making SIBC radio programs vital to maintaining an informed population. Prime Minister Sogavare’s relationship with the local media is tense at best, blaming media coverage for youth protests and a no-confidence vote he survived. He frequently interprets media criticism as the outcome of media collusion with foreign agents, while his office has imposed media blackouts on consequential policy items, most significantly the signed security deal with China, by refusing to release any text from the agreement.
Influence of a powerful neighbour . . .
Concerns over press freedom and journalistic integrity in Solomon Islands have grown since it entered into the controversial security deal with China in May. Beijing appears to have an outsized influence on press practices and news coverage in the country and other Pacific Island nations. Solomon Islands press faced heavy restrictions when China’s foreign minister visited earlier this year, with only selected news outlets permitted to attend press events and local media only allowed one question. The Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI) called for a boycott of controlled press conferences. The censoring of SIBC further reflects the government's desire to tightly control media and constrain transparency around government initiatives. As Solomon Islands get closer to China, journalists fear ever diminishing access to local leaders and heightened pressure to toe the government line.
- ABC Australia: Solomon Islands orders national broadcaster SIBC not to report content critical of government
- The Island Sun: SIBC to air news supporting government only
- Solomon Times: Prime Minister’s office orders censorship of SIBC