The government of the Solomon Islands has warned that journalists who are “disrespectful” will not be allowed entry into the country.
On August 24, the Office of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare criticized the Four Corners program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for its video episode titled “Pacific Capture: How Chinese money is buying the Solomons,” which tackles the rising influence of the Beijing government in the Solomon Islands.
…title suggests to the unsuspecting mind that Solomon Islands is for sale. ABC with its vast viewership in the region had chosen to parade its anti-China attitude using Solomon Islands as its springboard to cause geopolitical fear and uncertainty in the region.
The Sogavare government has developed closer ties with China after ceasing its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2019. It welcomed and promoted the expansion of Chinese aid and investments over the last three years. In March, a leaked security pact between the two countries sparked regional controversy and elicited strong reactions from other Pacific powers such as Australia and the United States. Sogavare has consistently denied that a Chinese military facility will be established in the Solomon Islands.
The prime minister’s statement accused ABC of spreading misinformation:
We will not allow bad press to grow seeds of disharmony in a country that is going through its nation building process.
Media freedom must not be used to undermine a state’s stability based on misinformation and biased reporting.
It added that the ABC reporting smacks of racism. These accusations may be used as a basis to block ABC reporters and other foreign journalists who are behaving the same way from entering the country.
ABC is trying to tell the Solomon Islands people that because the Government of Solomon Islands is opening up to partners who are not, in the opinion of ABC, white and does not operate a democratic system it is wrong, unfit and corrupt. This is racial profiling and at best promotes racism and racial stereotyping.
When you chose to come to our Pacific Islands, be respectful, be courteous and accord the appropriate protocols.
Such organizations or journalist who possess such qualities will not be allowed to enter Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands nations.
The ABC stands by the “accuracy and integrity” of its program. It also reminded the Solomon Islands government that local experts were interviewed in the video.
…we were determined to tell the story from the perspective of Solomon Islanders and the program reflected their concerns. Its main interviews were with two eminent Solomon Islanders, rather than relying on “foreign experts” as is often the case.
An ABC journalist also clarified that they reached out to the prime minister’s office several times.
This has nothing to do with “demeaning coverage” and everything to do with a government in Honiara allergic to scrutiny. Four Corners sought an interview with PM Sogavare 10 weeks before going to air and followed up on at least six occasions. https://t.co/Of5qIk3z13
— angus grigg (@AngusGrigg) August 25, 2022
Another ABC journalist posted a question about how the prime minister’s statement could affect the work of foreign correspondents.
Plenty remains unclear here. Is Mr Sogavare's office stating categorically that the govt is developing a new visa regime for foreign journalists? Or is this just a vague statement of intent? It's only a single line in a very, very long press release 2/
— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) August 24, 2022
Solomon islands “summoned” Australia’s High Commissioner about the ABC program, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that it was a mere “neighborly discussion” about the issues raised in the report.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale described Sogavare as “a person with extreme paranoia” and added that the prime minister should blame himself for refusing to face the media.
It is totally pointless to summon people when international media have travelled to your doorstep and requested interviews with you, but you declined. The best you could have done is face the media and tell your side of the story and not to cry over spilt milk. Why is the Prime Minister afraid to face the media?
The International Federation of Journalists has expressed concern about Sogavare’s statement and its negative impact on upholding press freedom. This is not the first time this year that proposed restrictions on news coverage were highlighted by the media. Last month, the government directed the public broadcaster to stop promoting “disunity.” Local journalists also boycotted a press forum in May during the visit of China’s foreign minister after they were barred from raising questions during the event.