Censorship fears as Solomon Islands government tightens control over state broadcaster

The Solomon Islands government has tightened its grip on the national public broadcaster, a move opponents say is directly aimed at controlling and censoring the news.
The government this week accused the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) of “lack of ethics and professionalism” and said its duty is “to protect our people from lies and misinformation, especially when those same lies and misinformation are being spread by the national authorities.” TV presenter”.

But in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday, Johnson Honimae, chief executive of SIBC, said he was proud of the broadcaster’s award-winning journalism.

He said it was business as usual and that government censors did not check stories before they were broadcast, contrary to what some news outlets had reported.
The criticism of the government came at a politically turbulent time in the Solomon Islands.
Last November, there were riots in the capital Honiara, followed in December by a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Manasseh Sogawara, which he survived.
Then in April, Sogaware signed a security pact with China that caused deep concern in the Pacific region and around the world.

The SIBC reported on these developments, including the opinions of Sogaware’s opponents.

The broadcaster, which began as the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service, has been in existence for 70 years.
The broadcasting company, which employs about 50 people and operates under the slogan “Voice of the Nation”, remains the main source of radio and television news for the 700,000 inhabitants of the islands, and is listened to and watched from the capital to the smallest village.
At the end of June, the government decided to remove SIBC from the list of state-owned enterprises and take more direct control, saying that it did not make a profit.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale said on Wednesday that the delisting was a scheme orchestrated by Sogaware as “a clear attempt to directly control and censor SIBC news content.”

“This would violate the well-entrenched principles of defamation and free speech law, thereby depriving the public of the use of SIBC to freely express their opinions or access information about government activities,” Mr. Weil said.

Mr. Honimae said that in recent months, the broadcaster has received calls from Mr. Sogaware’s office.
“They think we are publishing too many stories from the opposition, which is causing too much division,” Mr. Honimae said.
According to Mr. Honimae, the broadcaster and its staff have won several recent journalism awards, including Newsroom 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 more” and leave no room for criticism, noting that Mr Sogaware, who is also the broadcasting minister, had told parliament that the government would not interfere with the broadcaster’s editorial independence.
“Currently there is no censorship,” Honimae said.

“We work like professional journalists.”