Pacific Media Watch Press Office

The Civicus monitor documented an increase in restrictions on civic space by the Solomon Islands government, which led to the downgrading of the country’s rating to “shrink” in December 2021.

As previously documentedthere have been threats to ban Facebook in the country and attempts to vilify civil society.

Authorities also restricted access to information, including media requests. During violent anti-government protests in November 2021, journalists on site were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets by police.

Elections are held in the Solomon Islands every four years and parliament was due to be dissolved in May 2023.

However, the Solomon Islands are set to host the Pacific Games in November 2023, and Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has sought to delay the dissolution of parliament until December 2023, with an election to be held within four months of that date. The opposition leader called the delay a “power grab”.

There have also been more and more concerns on freedom of the press and the influence of China, which signed a security agreement with the Pacific island nation in April 2022.

Journalists face restrictions when visiting China
In May 2022, journalists in the Solomons faced numerous restrictions as they attempted to report on Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the region.

According reportsthe Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to answer questions about the visit.

Journalists seeking to cover the Solomon Islands for international media said they were barred from attending press events, while journalists granted access were barred from asking questions.

Georgina Kekea, president of the Solomon Islands Media Association (MASI), said it had been very difficult to get information about Wang’s visit to the country, including an itinerary.

She said there was only one press event scheduled in Honiara, but only journalists from two Solomon Islands newspapers, the national broadcaster and Chinese media were allowed to attend.

Covid-19 concerns were cited as the official reason for the limited number of journalists present.

“MASI thrives on professional journalism and sees no reason for journalists to be discriminated against based on who they represent,” Kekea said.

“Giving credentials to selected journalists is a sign of favouritism. Journalists should be allowed to do their job without fear or favour.

The The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said that the “restriction of journalists and media organisations… sets a worrying precedent for press freedom in the Pacific” and urged the Solomon Islands government to ensure press freedom is protected.

Government tightens control of state broadcasters
The Solomon Islands government is seeking tighter control of the country’s public broadcaster, a move that opponents say is aimed at controlling and censorship the news.

On August 2, 2022, the government ordered the country’s national broadcaster – the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, known as SIBC – to self-censor its news and other paid programs and only allow content that features the country’s government. in a positive light.

The government has also said that it check all stories before broadcast.

The broadcaster, which broadcasts radio programs, TV bulletins and online news, is the only way to receive immediate information for people in many remote areas of the country and plays a vital role in the management of natural disasters.

The move comes a month after the broadcaster’s independence was significantly compromised, namely when it lost its designation as a “state enterprise” and became entirely government funded.

This has raised concerns that the government is seeking to exert greater control over the broadcaster.

The IJF said“The censorship of the national broadcaster of the Solomon Islands is an attack on freedom of the press and an unacceptable development for journalists, the public and the democratic political process.

“The IFJ calls for the immediate reinstatement of independent broadcasting arrangements in the Solomon Islands.”

However, in an interview on August 8, the government seemed back track on the decision and said SIBC would retain editorial control.

This said that he only seeks to protect “our people from lies and misinformation […] broadcast by the national broadcaster.

Authorities threaten to ban foreign journalists
The authorities have threatened with banning or expulsion foreign journalists deemed disrespectful of the country’s relations with China.

According to the IFJ, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on August 24 criticizing foreign media for not following the standards expected of journalists writing and reporting on the situation in the Solomon Islands.

The government has warned that it will implement swift measures to prevent journalists who are not “respectful” or “courteous” from entering the country.

The statement specifically targeted an August 1 episode of Four corners, titled “Pacific Capture: How Chinese Money is Buying the Solomons”. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) investigative documentary series has been accused of “disinformation and spreading preconceived harmful information”.

ABC has refuse this charge.

IJF sentenced “this serious attack on freedom of the press” and called on Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to “ensure that all journalists remain free to cover all matters relating to the Solomon Islands”.

Republished with permission.