The Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI) has urged its members to boycott a media conference for a visiting Chinese delegation in protest over “ridiculous” restrictions.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi leads the high-level delegation which arrives in Solomon Islands today.
Wang is expected to sign a host of new agreements, including the security pact that has sparked anger in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
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MASI president Georgina Kekea said it was disappointed that the media were only allowed limited access to the visit.
Kekea said Solomon Islands was a democratic country and when media freedom was dictated on someone else’s terms, it impeded the country’s democratic principles.
“The Chinese delegation’s visit is an important and historical one for our country and our members play an important role in making sure it provides the right information and awareness on the importance of the visit to our people,” she said.
She said only two questions could be asked, one from a local journalist directed to the Solomon Islands foreign affairs minister, and one from Chinese media, directed to their foreign affairs minister.
“How ridiculous is that? If we want to interview our foreign affairs minister, we can just do it without the event,” she said.
‘What’s the purpose?’
“What is the purpose of hosting such an event for the press when they are only allowed one question and directed to their foreign minister only?”
Kekea said even the discriminatory manner in which journalists were selected to cover the event did not bode well with the association.
“MASI thrives on professional journalism and sees no reason for journalists to be discriminated against based on who they represent. Giving credentials to selected journalists is a sign of favouritism,” she said.
“Journalists should be allowed to do their job without fear or favour.”
She said the reason given that the arrangements were done that way because of covid-19 protocols did not stack up.
“We have community transmission, people are crowded in buses, shops, markets, banks and so forth, so this is a very lame excuse,” she said.
Kekea said press freedom is enshrined as a fundamental element in the Solomons’ constitution.
‘MASI defending democracy’
“Same as the prime minister has defended democracy in Parliament after the November riots, MASI is also defending democracy in this space,” Kekea said.
She added that the boycott was not to disrespect the government or its bilateral partners in any way, but to showcase the media’s disagreement in this matter.
Solomons Islands opposition leader Mathew Wale has again raised concerns at the secrecy surrounding links with Beijing.
Wale said only a few top aides know what is in the agreements, and that there’s no justification for the secrecy.
“Solomon Islands is a democratic country, owned by the people and they are entitled to know what is being transacted in their name,” he said.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.