WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Solomon Islands government has tightened its grip on the country’s state broadcaster — a move that opponents say is aimed at controlling and censoring the news.
The government this week accused Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation of a “lack of ethics and professionalism” and said it had a responsibility “to protect our people from lies and misinformation, especially when it is spread by the NBC.”
But in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, SIBC CEO Johnson Honimae said he was proud of the broadcaster’s award-winning journalism. He said it was business as usual, with no government censors censoring stories before they aired, contrary to what some news outlets reported.
The government’s move comes amid political upheaval in the Solomon Islands.
Riots in capital Honiara In November last year, a vote of no confidence followed Survived Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in December.Then in April, Sogavare signed a security deal with China This has caused deep alarm in the Pacific region and around the world.
The SIBC has been reporting on these developments, including the views of Sogavare’s opponents.
Originally the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service, the broadcaster has been in the Solomon Islands for 70 years.
The broadcaster, which has about 50 employees and operates under the slogan “Voice of the Nation,” remains the main source of radio and television news for the nation’s 700,000 people, listened and watched from the capital to the smallest village.
In late June, the government delisted SIBC as a state-owned enterprise and took more direct control, saying it had failed to make a profit, as such businesses would expect.
Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said on Wednesday that the delisting was a scheme orchestrated by Sogavare in a “clear attempt to directly control and censor the news content of SIBC”.
“This would hijack well-entrenched legal principles around defamation and free speech, thereby denying the public the right to use the SIBC to express their opinions freely or obtain information about government activities,” Wale said.
Honimae told The Associated Press that broadcasters have been answering calls from Sogavare’s office in recent months.
“They think we’re reporting too many stories from the opposition and creating too much disunity,” Honimae said.
The broadcaster and its staff have recently won several journalism awards, including Newsroom of the Year and Reporter of the Year, Honimae said. The broadcaster starts playing the national anthem every day at 6am and ends at 11pm, he said.
“We believe we are a powerful force for unity and peace in this country,” Honimae said.
Honimae added that broadcasters needed to “balance our stories more” and leave no room for criticism. Sogavare, who is also broadcasting minister, had said in parliament that the government would not tamper with broadcasters’ editorial independence, he said.
“There is no censorship at the moment,” Honimae said. “We operate as professional journalists.”