Solomons PM Forces National Broadcaster to Censor Content That ‘Creates Disunity’

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Writer
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.
August 1, 2022 Updated: August 1, 2022

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has ordered the national broadcaster of the Solomon Islands to cease broadcasting content critical of his government.

The move crystallises ongoing warnings that corrupt Pacific leaders will—with the backing of Beijing—steadily erode their country’s democratic institutions in a bid to stay in power.

According to the Island Sun newspaper, the acting chair of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), William Parairato, broke the news to staff on July 28, saying all content going forward had to go through a “vetting” process to “make sure it does not create disunity.”

The SIBC has recently hosted paid talkback programmes with the National Council of Women, Transparency Solomon Islands, and opposition leader Matthew Wale—all have been critical of current Prime Minister Sogavare and a recent decision to extend parliamentary terms from four to five years.

Parairato admitted to staff that he was unclear on the future of these programmes but stated that they would all need to be vetted.

Ongoing Pressure to Tow the Party Line

The move comes as the broadcaster endures sustained pressure from the Solomons prime minister.

In late July, Sogavare removed the media group from the government’s schedule of state-owned enterprises—potentially affecting future funding streams.

“As a national broadcaster, SIBC is expected to conduct its business in such a manner that instils unity amongst our people,” he told the Solomon Islands Parliament in response to a question from the opposition leader. “However, in recent times, that was not the case.”

He further claimed the media was inciting anxiety in the public using “misinformation” and “deliberate lies.”

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responded, saying it was aware of the recent developments.

Epoch Times Photo
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L) greets Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (R) during a bilateral meeting at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Suva, Fiji, on July 13, 2022. (Armao/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

“A free and independent media is vital to building strong communities and ensuring democratic accountability,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times.

“Australia supports the development of a diverse, independent and professional Pacific media sector. The government will engage closely with Pacific counterparts through the implementation of the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy, as we build on existing training programs for Pacific journalists.”

Australia already funds the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme, which provides content and infrastructure support.

The Breaking Down of the Solomons Democracy

The latest developments in the South Pacific nation come amid concerns Beijing is waging all-out “entropic and unrestricted warfare” to gain a foothold over the region.

South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal said instigators like the Chinese Communist Party try to leverage every area it can, including cyber, economic, political, legal, and media, to destabilise a government.

“Those weapons are used to weaken the target country from the inside and to fragment and create disorder in the target country so that it is less able to withstand Chinese influence,” Paskal told The Epoch Times.

“That process of creating instability and fragmentation can be described as creating a state of ‘entropy’—of political, social, and economic entropy—where things start to just break down. And in that state of disorder, China can create a new order with itself and its proxies at the centre.”

Meanwhile, leaders like Sogavare, or Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Bob Loughman, will leverage these conditions to extend their hold on power—they already face intense pressure domestically and could lose upcoming elections.

Loughman only recently tried—and failed—to invoke sweeping changes to the country’s Constitution to extend the term limits of government and also allow foreign nationals to hold office.

In the case of the Solomons, the prime minister’s decision to force its national broadcaster to self-censor content is another step toward weakening the country’s already fragile democratic institutions and prolonging his time in office.

Sogavare has also managed to assuage international concerns over a security deal with Beijing that opens the door for weapons, troops, and naval ships to be stationed in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he was “very confident” that a military base would not be established following a visit to the island.

“One of the things we need to do is build personal relations between Australia and our friends in the Pacific,” he told the Today Show in mid-July.

“We need to be prepared to listen to what they have to say, be prepared to assist in their development.”

Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.