26 September 2000


During a crisis that has received little international coverage, the Solomon Islands government has limited the local media's ability to cover issues pertaining to ethnic tensions within the country, reports the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA).

On 18 September, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) reported that the Director of Government Communications Alfred Maesulia had issued a letter to all media organisations requiring all media releases on the ethnic crisis, that were not issued by the government itself, to be screened by the Prime Minister?s office. The authorities justify this new regulation based on arguments of public safety and national security, states PINA.

"Untimely news in the media has already cost the government millions of dollars and put the lives of certain citizens in the country at risk," said Maesulia, though he neglected to provide any examples of such "untimely news."

The media has been living under a state of ethnic tension between the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) militia for 20 months, a situation exacerbated by the 5 June MEF-backed coup. The conflict was instigated "when Guadalcanal militants tried to drive out settlers from another island, Malaita, claiming the Malaitans dominated government and business and were taking over Guadalcanal land," says PINA.

Peace talks started in September and are expected to continue in October in Australia, reports PINA. The extent of the limitations remains unclear, say SIBC and many other local media groups that are demanding more information about the regulations.

Authorities state that further controls are necessary over "information that could harm the current peace-negotiations between the two ethnic militia," reports Pacific Media Watch (PMW). According to PMW, Maesulia "assured the independent media that they would not be affected in any way by the ban but the Government expected them to be more responsible in their coverage of issues related to the current conflict." In particular, the authorities expressed concern about what they considered "misinformation" published by the media.

"Getting the full story" of the conflict has been a huge challenge for local journalists, writes Erin Phelan of PINA in the "Commonwealth Press Union News" (August 2000). Since the 5 June coup, the local media have been severely inhibited from reporting fully and freely on events. While the coup leaders have held true for the most part on their commitment to respecting media freedom, journalists have been fearful of visiting IFM camps because of their own ethnic composition.

Most journalists are Malaitian, says Phelan. The other major difficulty that journalists have faced has been a partial closure of newspapers due to a lack of advertising support. SIBC has cut its broadcasting hours and the "Star" has halved in size over the past months, says Phelan. Finally, while some foreign journalists have accurately reported on events in the country, local journalists feel that many overseas reports have "stirred unnecessary panic" by not knowing the political context of the Solomon Islands and not getting even the "basic facts" right.

Phelan also critically notes that despite the fact that the Solomon Islands underwent a coup only one month after the storming of Fiji?s parliament, the international media has paid very little attention to the former by comparison.

For updated information about the situation in the Solomon Islands, consult PINA?s website,
http://www.pinanius.org,">http://www.pinanius.org">http://www.pinanius.org,and PMW?s website:

Solomon Islands
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