COMMENT: By Wendy Amangongo
Twenty years ago, the Solomon Islands government put restrictions on the media during and after the State of Public Emergency. This included preventing journalists from attending militant peace meetings and Prime Minister Sogavare demanding that all media reporting of the conflicts/Tensions be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister.
The Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI) fought back against the government – the media attended the peace conferences and they refused to buckle to PM Manasseh Sogavare’s illegal demands for him to approve their reports.
That was real journalism.
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Now, this same Prime Minister is again trying to restrict the free media by banning Facebook – the most widely used social media tool used in Solomon Islands and also around the world. It is reported that only other countries to ban Facebook are China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
So where is MASI? Why the silence from our top media association?
When they received donations from China and USA they were quick to put out press releases. But when the free media is threatened for all of us MASI goes silent. Why?
Global media reports
Global media organisations have reported it in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, China, England, India, Russia and many more countries.
Locally, the opposition, independent group, government MP’s, Chamber of Commerce and even the Visitors Bureau have publicly condemned the Facebook ban.
Yet not a word from MASI?! What is going on?
On one of MASI’s Facebook pages its states its “vision” is “the Solomon Islands media industry is a respected leader across the Pacific in the promotion, observance and protection of human rights and liberties including the protection of the rights of access to information, transparency and accountability.”
“Protection of Human rights”? The world’s leading human rights organisation has actually stated cabinet’s decision is “a blatant and brazen attack on human rights”.
What about MASI’s vision of “rights to access of information”? if Facebook is suspended we will not receive a lot of critical information including updates on covid-19.
So where is MASI? Why are they so quiet on such an important media issue?
MASI’s position on this major decision
This might be the answer:
In 2017, MASI’s then vice-president, Douglas Marau, was removed from the executive of MASI because of his perceived conflict of interest since he was an employee in the Office of the Prime Minister.
In July this year at a MASI general meeting, Douglas Marau made himself available again as the vice-president of MASI, with Georgina Kekea as president.
Before and after the announcement of cabinet’s decision to suspend Facebook I asked the MASI executive, including Marau, about their position on this major decision.
One of the basic rules of a free society is that the media must be separate from any and all forms of government so that they can freely report upon events.
In fact, it is stated in MASI’s own constitution that its objective is for MASI to be “an independent organisation”.
I call on MASI to consider and abide by your very own constitution, vision and mission as an organisation and make your position clear about cabinet’s decision to suspend Facebook.
Please also take immediate action to remove conflicted members from the executive.
Wendy Amangongo is a social justice issues commentator and activist in the Solomon Islands. Since this column was first written, MASI president Georgina Kekea has made a statement criticising the ban