Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has ordered Solomon Islands’ national broadcaster to stop airing content critical of his government.
The move crystalizes ongoing warnings that corrupt Pacific leaders, with Beijing’s backing, will gradually erode their country’s democratic institutions in a bid to stay in power.
According to the Island Sun newspaper, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) acting president William Parairato broke the news to staff on July 28, saying all upcoming content must go through a “vetting” process to “to make sure it doesn’t create disunity.
The SIBC recently held paid talk shows with the National Council of Women, Transparency Solomon Islands and opposition leader Matthew Wale – all of whom criticized current Prime Minister Sogavare and a recent decision to extend parliamentary terms by four at five years old.
Parairato admitted to staff that he was unclear about the future of those programs, but said they would all need to be checked out.
Continued pressure to tow the party line
The move comes as the broadcaster comes under sustained pressure from the Solomon Islands prime minister.
At the end of July, Sogavare removed the media group from the government’s list of public companies, which could affect future financing flows.
“As the national broadcaster, the SIBC is supposed to carry out its activities in such a way as to bring about unity among our people,” he told the Solomon Islands Parliament in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition. “However, lately that was not the case.”
He further claimed that the media incites public anxiety by using “misinformation” and “deliberate lies”.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade responded, saying it was aware of recent developments.
“Free and independent media are essential 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 work closely with its Pacific counterparts in implementing 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 Collapse of Solomon Democracy
The latest developments in the South Pacific nation come amid concerns that Beijing is waging an “entropic and unrestricted war” to gain a foothold in the region.
South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal said instigators like the Chinese Communist Party try to leverage every possible sphere, including cybersecurity, economics, politics, law and media, to destabilize a government.
“These weapons are used to weaken the target country from within and to fragment and create disorder in the target country so that it is less able to resist Chinese influence,” Paskal told The Epoch Times.
“This process of creating instability and fragmentation can be described as creating a state of ‘entropy’ – political, social and economic entropy – where things just start to fall apart. And in this state of disorder, China can create a new order with itself and its proxies at the center.
Meanwhile, leaders like Sogavare or Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman will take advantage of these conditions to extend their grip on power – they are already facing intense pressure domestically and could lose the next election.
Loughman has only recently tried — and failed — to invoke sweeping changes to the country’s Constitution to extend the term of government and also allow foreign nationals to hold office.
In the case of the Solomons, the Prime Minister’s decision to force his national broadcaster to self-censor is a further step towards weakening the country’s already fragile democratic institutions and extending his tenure.
Sogavare has also managed to ease international concerns over a security deal with Beijing that opens the door to stationing weapons, troops and warships in the region.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was “very confident” that a military base would not be established after a visit to the island.
“One of the things we need to do is build personal relationships between Australia and our friends in the Pacific,” he told the Today Show in mid-July.
“We have to be ready to listen to what they have to say, be ready to help their development.”