Govt Says SIBC is Governed by an Act and Maintains its Editorial Independence
The Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has clarified that the removal of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) as a State Owned Enterprise is not censorship, nor is it prior restraint.
This is a direct response to the Opposition Leader’s statement claiming that the move is an attempt to directly control and censor SIBC’s news content.
“Obviously Hon. Wale is confused with the concept of censorship and prior restraint. At no time has the Government exercised powers under section 24 of the Broadcasting Act to prohibit SIBC from broadcasting any material.”
The statement boldly stated, “SIBC is merely removed as an SOE under that Act. Editorial control remains with SIBC.”
SIBC is a statutory body established by an Act of Parliament, the Broadcasting Act Cap.112.
This is the Act the National broadcaster has been operating under since independence.
In 2007 Parliament enacted the State Owned Enterprise Act, and SIBC was added to the Schedule of this Act as a state owned enterprise. In essence, SIBC is state owned and is the national broadcaster.
The Government believes the SOE Act has restricted and or limited the control of Government on various bodies created by Statute. It has refocused the initial purposes of these statutory bodies to be profit oriented and not by the need for provision of services to our people. SIBC is an example of such a statutory body, others include Solomon Islands Electricity Authority, Solomon Islands Water Authority and Solomon Islands Ports Authority etc.
SIBC as a government service provider depends on the Solomon Islands Government for funding its operations.
As a national broadcaster SIBC is expected to conduct its business in such a manner that instils unity amongst Solomon Islanders. Sadly, in recent times, the opposite was evident.
“We have seen that recently SIBC has been broadcasting news that is inciting alarm and anxiety in our public, mostly based on misinformation and lies. The Government has not been even given the opportunity to respond to this misinformation and lies,” the statement said.
The transition will ensure that the National Broadcaster discharges its mandate in a fair and responsible manner in accordance with ethical journalism.
The statement added, “the Government must protect our people from misinformation, especially when it is propagated by the National Broadcaster.”
Another reason for stripping SIBC from its SOE status is because the Corporation has not been making any dividends since 2018 and has been dependent on the Government all its life.
Government support to SIBC includes:
(a) Subvention grant from Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet;
(b) Community Service Obligation under the State-Owned Enterprises Act 2007 (“SOE Act”);
It is critical to emphasise, SIBC will still operate under the Broadcasting Act Cap 112 as it has been doing since the nation gained political independence in 1978 but will not be bound by the State Owned Enterprise Act.
In his statement (on 3rd August 2022), Leader of Opposition Hon Matthew Wale has lashed out at the decision to remove SIBC as an SOE
Mr Wale said the decision is a clear attempt to directly control and censor the news content of SIBC adding it is a regrettable decision and a threat to press freedom in the country.
He said reporting truth and fair comment are justifiable even if they hurt, adding that as leaders they are subject to criticism and it is absolutely right for people to voice their concerns against leaders.
The Opposition Leader added, this action undermines people’s right to hear a diversity of views and opinions, especially those critical of the Prime Minister and his government.
Speaking to SBS News, SIBC Chief Executive Johnson Honimae said “the broadcaster had been taking calls from Mr Sogavare’s office in recent months. They believe we’ve been running too many stories from the opposition side, causing too much disunity,’’ Mr Honimae said.
He said “the broadcaster and its staff have won several recent journalism awards, including for newsroom of the year and journalist of the year. We believe we are a great force for unity and peace in this country,’’ he said.
He added “the broadcaster needed to “balance our stories more” and leave no opportunity for criticism.’’
He also clarified that there is no censorship at the moment adding staff operate as professional journalists.