|Inter-ethnic clashes on the country's largest island, Guadalcanal,
prompted a backlash against journalists. The trouble centered on the large
population of settlers who have moved from elsewhere in the Solomon Islands
archipelago to live and work in the capital, Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal militants launched a violent anti-settler campaign against newcomers
from neighboring Malaita island, whom they accused of taking away land and
jobs from Guadalcanal's indigenous population.
In January, Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu asked the media "not to use the names of militant groups in the light of intercommunal tension," according to a report by Radio New Zealand International. The prime minister warned that the media's reference to particular militias could escalate tensions. In February, Guadalcanal provincial premier Ezekial Alebua called for a ban on all media coverage of the growing unrest. Alebua charged that the press coverage was exacerbating tensions.
The state-run Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) seemed to rebuff Alebua's call for a ban on coverage, with its comment that "to ignore a story was not in the public interest."
In early summer, after thousands were displaced by the fighting, Ulufa'alu decided to make the ban official. On June 28, just as the various parties to the conflict were agreeing to sign a peace accord, the country's governor general issued an amendment to the Emergency Powers Act of 1999 that threatened onerous fines and even imprisonment for those whose reporting "may incite violence" or could be deemed "likely to cause racial disharmony." SIBC promptly dropped all live broadcasts of news produced overseas, and all foreign correspondents left Solomon Islands within days of the order.
The English-language daily Solomon Star criticized the decree, noting that "The wording of the regulations comes straight out of the colonial era...[and does] Solomon Islands' democracy a major disservice."
Fiji's former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, the Commonwealth mediator who helped broker the peace agreement, called for an end to the media ban in July, but authorities lifted it only with the expiration of the state of emergency in mid-October.
Some local journalists blamed foreign correspondents for the ban, saying they were reporting on the conflict without "respect and sensitivity" for the people involved. Answering that charge, Michael Field, an Agence France-Presse reporter who has spent many years reporting on the Pacific islands, said, "Our job is to report the news, including the bad and unpleasant stuff that may offend people. Anything else is not journalism."
All journalists CENSORED
The governor general of Solomon Islands issued an amendment to the Emergency Powers Act of 1999 that threatens journalists who violate state-imposed reporting restrictions with up to two years imprisonment, a fine of up to SI$5,000 (US$1,050), or both. The regulations prohibit any reporting that "may incite violence," "is likely to cause racial disharmony," or that is "likely to be prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state." There are also provisions in the amendment that criminalize the possession of an official document by anyone "who has no right to retain it."
In order to avoid the risk of harsh penalties, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation stopped all live broadcasts of news produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Australia, and Radio New Zealand International. According to CPJ's sources, all foreign journalists left Solomon Islands by June 30.
The amendment was issued following official concerns that reporting on the ethnic conflict on the island of Guadalcanal--where the capital, Honiara, is located--was undermining government-sponsored efforts to end the fighting. Clashes between armed militants native to Guadalcanal and settlers from neighboring Malaita island escalated during the first half of the year, forcing thousands of Malaitans from their homes.
In a July 1 letter to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, CPJ urged him to repeal the amendment immediately, since it places sharp limits on the ability of journalists to report on issues of importance to the public. On October 27, the minister of state notified the general manager of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, that the emergency restrictions had lapsed on October 15 with the lifting of the state of emergency.