Honiara Riots: Local Journalists share stories of harassments

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By Mike Tua

Face to face with angry rioters threatening physical attacks, local mainstream and freelance journalists and photographers in the Solomon Islands were confronted with an unsettling reality during the three days of rioting in Honiara.

Local journalists in the country equipped with their cameras and limited protection were working solo on assignments for their respective newsrooms when the event happened.

A freelance and multimedia female journalist, Gina Kekea recounted the crowd as they marched down to Vavaya Ridge road, next to City Motel in Central Honiara threatened to attack them (freelance news crew and cameraman).

“They threatened to shoot us with stones and swore at us (they shouted obscenities at us), shouting, “Go away with your cameras!”

“Those that knew me personally did not say anything. Those that did, I assume knew me but do not know me personally; some might not know me at all,” said Gina Kekea, who heads, the Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI).

Gina argued that: “I don’t think any call for respect of journalists at this point will make a difference.

“Except that, I am surprised that people who spoke highly of culture do not have any respect at all of the culture,” she told Sunday Isles.

“We are women doing our job just like any other and if that’s the way Solomon Islands men treat women in general, I am sorry for our country.

“We are lost and nothing will and can change unless we the people change ourselves. We will not make a difference.”

The MASI President, Kekea, also spoke out on the issue at hand pleading for people to simply allow the media to do its job.

“MASI condemned the recent riots that happen and call on authorities too to respect the work of the media,” she said.

In a recent media statement from the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) chair, Bernadette Carreon also urged local authorities to protect the local journalists who are getting crucial news to the public about the protests.

“The media should be allowed to do their job unharmed.

“PFF is urging authorities and protesters to respect the media who are working to inform the public about the unfortunate events taking place in the city.

“Journalists on location were attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stones while protestors advanced towards the Solomon Islands Parliament house.

“While we understand, this was done to disperse protesters, Carreon said journalists were merely in the line of fire due to the nature of their job, as frontliners.

“The assault on members of the media is an assault on democracy,” according to the media statement.

Sunday Isles online newspaper multimedia journalist, Alex Dadamu also faced harassment and phone smashed by rioters while covering the insurrection in and around the Mokolo Building near the Mataniko Bridge, China Town.

“They used many hurtful abusive words in Malaita language and were too aggressive.

“I was standing in front of Mokolo Building near the Mataniko Bridge taking pictures secretly because the crowd does not want anyone to take pictures and videos and they have announced it in the first place before and during the match down to china town.

“One point, I took a picture and then put my phone back in my pocket, unfortunately, a member of the crowd saw me take a picture.

“He approached me aggressively, threatening to hit me. By that time, more members started to join and one guy threatened me for taking the pictures.

“They demanded that I hand over the phone to them. I humbly said sorry and handed over the phone because already my life was in danger.

“I feared for my safety and handed over the phone from my pocket and they smashed in on the tar road.

“There goes my phone,” said Alex.

He said he and another colleague journalist from Sunday Isles (environment reporter, John Houanihau) covering the unrest on 24 November were also sprayed by the tear gas which was specifically targeted at the rioters.

When asked if he was wearing a press credential (Identification Card) issued by Sunday Isles, he noted that “I showed them my Sunday Isles Media ID Card which identified myself as a Politics and Development reporter at Isles Media.”

Alex said he had learned many lessons from the incident and hoped to make a difference in the future.

“Lesson learned and I do not blame them. It is our job as reporters to assess the situation and take note of the dangers which might happen.

“Additionally, more awareness needs to be than so that people may know and understand more about the role of media in a situation such as these.”

In another related incident, a female Journalist from Island Sun Newspaper, Mavis Nishimura Podokolo said demonstrators verbally harassed and chased her, forcing her to get out of the Town Ground area, west of Honiara.

Mavis demanded the public to respect the work of local media practisers and journalists in the country in times of crisis.

“The role of journalists is to inform the public during the crisis or riot is pivotal. The work of the journalist is very important in democracy,” she said.

SOURCE: SUNDAY ISLES/PACNEWS